20(S)-Camptothecin exists in equilibrium between its lactone (CPT) and its carboxylate forms (Na-CPT) under stimulated physiological conditions, with the equilibrium favoring the carboxylate form. The rates of lactone hydrolysis were studied in plasma, serum albumin, and blood and were found to be faster than in aqueous buffers at equivalent pH values. From mechanistic information and in vivo activity data, the lactone appears to be the active form of the drug. It has been argued, therefore, that if an equilibrium existed between the lactone and the carboxylate, Na-CPT could be used to deliver the lactone effectively. In the present study, plasma pharmacokinetics were performed in sodium pentobarbital-anesthetized rats treated with both CPT (lactone) and the sodium salt of camptothecin (carboxylate, Na-CPT) and the lactone and carboxylate, as well as the total drug, concentration versus time profiles were assessed. It was found that plasma concentrations and AUC values for the lactone were significantly higher after dosing with CPT than after dosing with Na-CPT. After i.v. administration, the ratio of plasma lactone to carboxylate was skewed by the apparent rapid and extensive uptake of the lactone into tissues and the rapid clearance of both species. From our results, it appears that the lower in vivo activity of Na-CPT compared to that from CPT administration might be attributed to the altered conversion of carboxylate into lactone in vivo compared to that predicted from in vitro data.