The pharmacokinetics of adriamycin (ADR) and its 13-hydroxylated-metabolite adriamycinol (ADR-ol) was investigated during treatment with ADR in rats at a dose of 2 mg/kg i.v., once a week for 3 weeks. At various times, samples of blood and cardiac and pulmonary tissues were collected to measure the amount of ADR and ADR-ol by an HPLC procedure. Periodical ECG monitoring was performed during the study; the severity of cardiac lesions was histologically evaluated at the end of treatment. During the first 180 min after ADR administration, plasma levels of ADR and ADR-ol rapidly decreased; ADR levels in cardiac and in pulmonary tissues increased between the 15th and 30th min and than decreased between the 60th and 180th min; on the contrary, ADR-ol was undetectable in either cardiac or pulmonary tissues during the first 3 hours following ADR administration. Between the 1st and 3rd weeks of treatment, plasmatic levels of ADR and ADR-ol were unchanged; in a similar way, both cardiac and pulmonary tissue levels of ADR were constant during the period of treatment. By contrast, the cardiac tissue level of ADR-ol significantly increased between the 2nd and 3rd weeks. ECG tracings showed maximal enlargement of both QRS and S alpha T at the end of the 3rd week. The histological examination of cardiac tissue indicated the occurrence of degenerative changes in 20% of rats at the end of the experiment. Overall results seem to indicate that ADR-ol is produced and stored in cardiac tissue during repeated ADR administration; as a consequence the cytotoxic metabolite might contribute to the cardiotoxic effect of ADR.