The hypothesis that basic drugs can compete for active tubular secretion by the kidney was tested in six healthy volunteers by comparing the single dose pharmacokinetics of oral procainamide before and during a daily dose of cimetidine. The area under the procainamide plasma concentration-time curve was increased by cimetidine by an average of 35% from 27.0 +/- 0.3 micrograms/ml X h to 36.5 +/- 3.4 micrograms/ml X h. The elimination half-life increased from an harmonic mean of 2.92 to 3.68 h. The renal clearance of procainamide was reduced by cimetidine from 347 +/- 46 ml/min to 196 +/- 11 ml/min. All these results were statistically significant (p less than 0.016). The area under the plasma concentration-time curve for n-acetylprocainamide was increased by a mean of 25% by cimetidine due to a significant (p less than 0.016) reduction in renal clearance from 258 +/- 60 ml/min to 197 +/- 59 ml/min. The data suggests that cimetidine inhibits the tubular secretion of both procainamide and n-acetylprocainamide, and, if so, represents the first documented evidence for this type of drug interaction in man. The clinical implications from this study necessitate dosage adjustments of procainamide in patients being concomitantly treated with cimetidine. The interaction is pertinent not only for basic drugs that are cleared by the kidney, but also for metabolites of basic drugs and endogenous substances which require active transport into the lumen of the proximal tubule of the kidney for their elimination.