The kinetics of morphine and formation of the main metabolite, morphine-3-glucuronide (M3G) after single and intravenous doses of morphine were studied in six cancer patients and compared with the formation rate of M3G in vitro in microsomes isolated from liver biopsies obtained from the same patients at palliative laparotomy. The results showed that high formation rates of M3G in vitro in microsomes isolated from liver biopsies were associated both with high apparent oral clearance values and high M3G/morphine AUC (area under the concentration vs time curve) ratios as measured in vivo in the same patients. In accordance with previous results marked interindividual differences were seen in the kinetics of morphine; the oral bioavailability varied between 30 and 69% and the systemic plasma clearance between 18.6 and 34.0 ml min-1 kg-1. This variation correlated with the variation in morphine metabolism as assessed in vitro. In vivo, a high M3G/morphine AUC ratio predicted a high oral clearance. Hepatic UDP-glucuronyl transferase activity is thus an important determinant of the in vivo kinetics of orally administered morphine.