1. The hepatic metabolism of the antimalarial drug amodiaquine was investigated in order to gain further insight into the postulated metabolic causation of the hepatotoxicity, which restricts the use of the drug. After intraportal (i.p.) administration (54 mumol/kg) to the anaesthetized rat, the drug was excreted in bile (23 +/- 3% dose over 5 h; mean +/- SD, n = 6) primarily as thioether conjugates. 2. After i.p. administration, 20% of the dose was excreted into urine over 24 h as parent compound and products of N-dealkylation and oxidative deamination. Desethylamodiaquine accumulated in liver, but was not a substrate for bioactivation as measured by biliary elimination of a glutathione adduct. 3. Prior administration of ketoconazole, an inhibitor of P450, reduced biliary excretion by 50% and effected a corresponding decrease in the amount of drug irreversibly bound to liver proteins. This indicated a role for P450 in the bioactivation of amodiaquine to a reactive metabolite that conjugates with glutathione and protein. 4. De-ethylation and irreversible binding were observed in vitro using male rat liver microsomes, and were again inhibited by ketoconazole. However, no such binding was observed with human (six individuals) hepatic microsomes despite extensive turnover of amodiaquine to desethylamodiaquine. 5. Amodiaquine quinoneimine underwent rapid reduction in the presence of either human or rat liver microsomes. Therefore in vitro studies may underestimate the bioactivation of amodiaquine in vivo. These data indicate that the extent of protein adduct formation in the liver will depend on the relative rates of oxidation of amodiaquine and reduction of its quinoneimine. This in turn may be a predisposing factor in the idiosyncratic hepatotoxicity associated with amodiaquine. 6. Substitution of a fluorine for the phenolic hydroxyl group in amodiaquine blocked bioactivation of the drug in vivo. Insertion of an N-hydroxyethyl function enabled partial clearance of amodiaquine and its deshydroxyfluoro analogue via O-glucuronidation and altered the balance between phase I oxidation and direct phase II conjugation of amodiaquine.