The purpose of this study was to describe the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) penetration of topotecan in humans, to generate a pharmacokinetic model to simultaneously describe topotecan lactone and total concentrations in the plasma and CSF, and to characterize the CSF and plasma pharmacokinetics of topotecan administered as a continuous infusion (CI). Plasma and CSF samples were collected from 17 patients receiving 5.5 or 7.5 mg/m2 per day as a 24-h CI (5 patients, 7 courses), or 0.5 to 1.25 mg/m2 per day as a 72-h CI (12 patients, 12 courses). CSF samples were obtained from either a ventricular reservoir (VR) or a lumbar puncture (LP). Topotecan lactone and total (lactone plus hydroxy acid) concentrations were determined by HPLC and fluorescence detection. Using MAP-Bayesian modelling, a three-compartment model was fitted simultaneously to topotecan lactone and total concentrations in the plasma and CSF. The penetration of topotecan into the CSF was determined from the ratio of the CSF to the plasma area under the concentration-time curve. The median CSF ventricular lactone concentrations, obtained prior to the end of infusion (EOI), were 0.86, 1.4, 0.73, 5.3, and 4.6 ng/ml for patients receiving 0.5, 1.0, 1.25, 5.5, and 7.5 mg/m2 per day, respectively. EOI CSF lumbar lactone concentrations measured in three patients were 0.44, 1.1, and 1.7 ng/ml for topotecan doses of 1.0, 5.5, and 7.5 mg/m2 per day, respectively. In two patients receiving 1.25 mg/m2 per day, EOI CSF concentrations were obtained simultaneously from a VR and LP; the lumbar lactone concentrations were 30% and 49% lower than the ventricular concentrations. During a 24-h and a 72-h CI, the median CSF penetration of topotecan lactone was 0.29 (range 0.10 to 0.59) and 0.42 (range 0.11 to 0.86), respectively. A three-compartment model adequately described topotecan lactone and total concentrations in the plasma and CSF. Topotecan was therefore found to significantly penetrate into the CSF in humans. The pharmacokinetic model presented may be useful in the design of clinical studies of topotecan to treat CNS tumors.