We examined the hypothesis that excess accumulation of major quinidine metabolites or the commercial impurity dihydroquinidine contributes to the development of polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (torsades de pointes, [TdP]) in patients taking quinidine. Total and free plasma concentrations of these compounds were measured by reverse-phase HPLC with fluorescence detection and equilibrium dialysis in 19 patients with TdP and 38 control patients tolerating quinidine therapy without toxicity. No significant differences were found between the two groups of patients. Ratios of metabolite or dihydroquinidine to quinidine varied up to tenfold among patients but were similarly distributed in the TdP and control groups. Only the metabolite 3-hydroxyquinidine was present at free plasma concentrations that exceeded free concentrations of quinidine. We conclude that although quinidine metabolism is highly variable, there does not appear to be any correlation between the plasma concentrations of quinidine, its metabolites or dihydroquinidine, and the subsequent development of TdP.