Theophylline, enriched with the stable isotopes 13C and 15N, was administered intravenously in a dose of 10 mg to 8 healthy men following single (200 mg) and multiple (200 mg 8-hourly for 5 days) oral dose administration of aminophylline. Total plasma clearance, volume of distribution, and half-time determined from the intravenous data were similar, demonstrating that the pharmacokinetics of theophylline after chronic dosing can be predicted from the pharmacokinetics of a single dose. With chronic oral dosing, however, the mean trough concentration was 12% higher at 9 a.m. than at 5 p.m., the end of the dose interval (3.94 +/- 0.55 vs. 3.50 +/- 0.45 micrograms X ml-1). The AUC following oral dosing was 25% higher in the multiple dose study than in the single dose study. Simulation analysis suggested that these results could be explained by diurnal variation in the clearance or absorption rate or a combination of both. Thus, the systemic availability of theophylline measured during a single dosage interval after chronic oral dosing to steady state would be overestimated in comparison with that measured after a single oral dose.