More than 25 years after phenylbutazone was introduced as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent, basic knowledge is still accumulating on its pharmacokinetics in man. Phenylbutazone is almost completely absorbed after oral administration. A large fraction of the drug in plasma is bound to proteins, and the drug has a small volume of distribution. Phenylbutazone is eliminated by metabolism, only 1% being excreted unchanged in the urine. Approximately 10% of a single dose of phenylbutazone is excreted in bile as metabolites. About 60% of the urinary metabolites have been identified. A novel type of drug metabolite in man, the C-glucuronide, is formed by direct coupling of the pyrazolidine ring of phenylbutazone to glucuronic acid via a C-C bond. Phenylbutazone is oxidised in a phenyl ring or in the side chain to hydroxylated metabolites, which may undergo subsequent O-glucuronidation. After a single dose, C-glucuronidation seems to be the dominant reaction, while oxidation becomes increasingly important after repeated administration. Due to different pharmacokinetic properties of the metabolites, the C-glucuronides are detected in highest concentrations in the urine, while the pharmacologically active compounds oxyphenbutazone and gamma-hydroxyphenbutazone predominate in plasma. The biological (elimination) half-life of phenylbutazone in man is long, with a mean of about 70 hours, and exhibits large interindividual and intraindividual variation. The interindividual variation is largely due to genetic factors. The intraindividual variation is dose and time dependent. In an individual there may be several critical dose levels where a change in the elimination kinetics takes place. Since there is no correlation between the plasma level and the clinical or toxic effects of phenylbutazone, there is at present no need for routine monitoring of plasma concentrations of the drug.