We investigated the pharmacokinetics of rifampicin and its major metabolites, 25-desacetylrifampicin and 3-formylrifampicin, in two groups of six patients with active pulmonary tuberculosis, who received either multiple oral or intravenous rifampicin therapy in combination with intravenous isoniazid and ethambutol. Serum concentrations of rifampicin were each determined after a single oral and intravenous test dose of 600 mg rifampicin at the beginning and after 1 and 3 weeks of tuberculostatic treatment. Analysis of rifampicin and its metabolites was performed by high-pressure liquid chromatography. It was found that, due to autoinduction of its metabolizing hepatic enzymes, the systemic clearance of rifampicin increased from 5.69 to 9.03 l/h after 3 weeks of multiple dosing. The volume of distribution of the drug was constant over the period of this study. The bioavailability of the active, orally administered rifampicin decreased from 93% after the first single oral dose to 68% after 3 weeks of oral and intravenous rifampicin therapy. Relating to the increase in systemic (hepatic) clearance, a bioavailability no lower than 90% can be predicted. The reduction to 68% indicates that, in addition to an increase of hepatic metabolism, an induction of a prehepatic "first-pass" effect resulted from multiple rifampicin doses. Our study of rifampicin metabolites confirm that prehepatic metabolism was induced, since a higher metabolic ratio resulted after the oral doses than after the intravenous rifampicin test doses. A preabsorptive process can therefore be excluded as a cause of reduced bioavailability.