When aspirin is administered by mouth in low doses, poor systemic bioavailability may contribute to its apparent dose-related "selective inhibition" of thromboxane A2 formation. Systemic bioavailability of orally administered aspirin is necessary to inhibit prostacyclin synthesis by systemic vascular endothelium, whereas cumulative inhibition of thromboxane A2 formation by platelets may occur in the presystemic (portal) circulation. We simultaneously administered unlabeled aspirin orally and deuterium-labeled aspirin intravenously in five healthy volunteers. This permitted an estimation of the bioavailability of an oral dose from the ratio of plasma drug concentration-time curves for the labeled and the unlabeled species. Systemic bioavailability ranged from 46 to 51 per cent of single oral doses of 20, 40, 325, and 1300 mg of aspirin. Bioavailability was similar after single-dose and long-term oral administration of 325 mg. Thromboxane B2 formation in serum ex vivo after oral administration of 20 mg of unlabeled aspirin was reduced 39 per cent before aspirin was detected in the systemic circulation. Furthermore, incubation of simulated peak plasma aspirin concentrations in whole blood in vitro underestimated the inhibition of thromboxane B2 ex vivo after oral administration of 20 or 40 mg of unlabeled aspirin. These data are consistent with presystemic inhibition of platelets by aspirin and suggest that biochemical "selectivity" might be enhanced by slow administration of very low doses of aspirin, thereby optimizing conditions for cumulative, presystemic acetylation of platelet cyclooxygenase and inhibition of thromboxane formation.