Certain fluoroquinolone antibiotics affect theophylline (THEO) disposition by inhibition of its metabolism, yet no studies to date have investigated the relationship between fluoroquinolone plasma concentration and THEO pharmacokinetics. The effects of two fluoroquinolones, enoxacin (ENOX) and ciprofloxacin (CIPRO), have been studied in male Sprague-Dawley rats (n = 33-46) at steady state plasma concentrations of 0-33 mg.l-1, achieved by supplementing an intravenous bolus dose with a constant rate infusion. The effects of steady state ENOX and CIPRO plasma concentrations on the clearance of THEO determined after an intravenous bolus dose of 6 mg.kg-1 were described using a competitive inhibition model. The model consisted of two components, one describing a residual component of THEO clearance, which was unaffected by fluoroquinolone, the other describing the non-linear reduction of THEO clearance by fluoroquinolone. The residual clearance estimated from the model was comparable to renal clearance for THEO in the rat. The potency of each fluoroquinolone was characterised by a Ki value, the concentration reducing THEO clearance by 50% of the maximum change. These values were 4.7 microM and 16.3 microM for ENOX and CIPRO, respectively. Thus, in this study, ENOX was found to be a more potent inhibitor of THEO clearance than CIPRO. The method allowed direct in vivo comparison of potency between different fluoroquinolones, as pharmacokinetic differences, such as clearance, volume of distribution and bioavailability, were 'designed out.'