Nicotine and cotinine concentrations were measured in placental tissue during the first trimester, in amniotic fluid during the second trimester and in placental tissue and fetal serum at birth. These values were compared to the corresponding serum concentrations of the smoking mothers. Nicotine concentrations in the placentas (range 3.3-28 ng/g), in amniotic fluid (range 1.5-23 ng/ml) and in fetal serum (range 0.5-25 ng/ml) were all higher than the corresponding maternal serum values: amniotic fluid/maternal vein serum concentration ratio 1.54 +/- (SD) 0.27 (n = 23; week 16-24 of gestation), umbilical vein serum/maternal vein serum ratio 1.12 +/- 0.30 (n = 26; at birth); placental tissue/maternal vein serum ratio 2.58 +/- 1.30 (n = 17; at birth); these ratios were between 1.2 and 5 during week 10 of gestation (n = 3). The ratios did not depend on the time between the last cigarette smoked and sampling. Significant correlations were found between nicotine concentrations in amniotic fluid and maternal serum (r = 0.88), between fetal and maternal serum levels (r = 0.88) and between placental and maternal serum levels (r = 0.52). Cotinine concentrations in placental tissue (range 10-131 ng/g), amniotic fluid (range 5-188 ng/ml) and fetal serum (range 15-233 ng/ml) were lower than or similar to corresponding maternal serum levels. Our results indicate that the human fetus is exposed to higher nicotine concentrations that the smoking mothers.