Purine and pyrimidine base and nucleoside levels were determined in adult human lumbar (CSF) and plasma by reversed-phase high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). Guanine, thymine, cytosine and uracil were not detectable (less than 0.1 microM) in human CSF or plasma. Adenine was detectable in plasma (0.3 microM) but was not found in CSF (less than 0.2 microM). Hypoxanthine and xanthine levels in CSF were each approximately 2.5 microM. Plasma levels of hypoxanthine and xanthine were considerably lower (0.4-0.6 microM). Purine and pyrimidine ribonucleosides in human CSF were less than or equal to 0.2 microM with the exception of uridine which was present at concentrations of 2-3 microM. Although low concentrations of thymidine and deoxyuridine (0.2 microM) were present in human plasma, purine and pyrimidine deoxyribonucleosides were less than 0.1 microM in human lumbar CSF.