In controlled trials involving asthma patients, zileuton - a selective 5-lipoxygenase inhibitor - has significantly improved pulmonary function and reduced symptoms. Since theophylline is frequently prescribed for asthma, we designed a placebo-controlled randomised crossover trial to examine the influence of zileuton on theophylline pharmacokinetics. 16 healthy adult males were given theophylline (Slo-Phyllin) 200mg 4 times daily for 5 days and either zileuton 800mg twice daily or a matching placebo. After a 15-day washout period, theophylline was resumed and the other study drugs reversed. During coadministration with zileuton, mean peak theophylline levels rose from 12.14 to 20.99 mg/L (p < 0.001), while the apparent plasma clearance dropped from 3.74 to 1.91 L/h (p < 0.001). The time to the peak theophylline concentration was delayed by 0.5 hours and the half-life was significantly prolonged by 1.5 hours. 14 volunteers reported 44 mild or moderately severe adverse events, possibly or probably related to coadministration of zileuton, and 8 volunteers reported 8 such events with placebo coadministration. Three volunteers receiving theophylline plus zileuton withdrew from the trial prematurely. Thus, a pharmacokinetic interaction that may produce theophylline toxicity exists between zileuton and theophylline. Accordingly, theophylline dosages in patients receiving zileuton should be adjusted to maintain levels within the therapeutic range. Upon initiation of zileuton, the typical asthma patient may require dosage reductions of one-half, and monitoring of plasma theophylline concentrations is recommended.