The biguanide metformin (dimethylbiguanide) is an oral antihyperglycaemic agent widely used in the management of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM). Considerable renewal of interest in this drug has been observed in recent years. Metformin can be determined in biological fluids by various methods, mainly using high performance liquid chromatography, which allows pharmacokinetic studies in healthy volunteers and diabetic patients. Metformin disposition is apparently unaffected by the presence of diabetes and only slightly affected by the use of different oral formulations. Metformin has an absolute oral bioavailability of 40 to 60%, and gastrointestinal absorption is apparently complete within 6 hours of ingestion. An inverse relationship was observed between the dose ingested and the relative absorption with therapeutic doses ranging from 0.5 to 1.5 g, suggesting the involvement of an active, saturable absorption process. Metformin is rapidly distributed following absorption and does not bind to plasma proteins. No metabolites or conjugates of metformin have been identified. The absence of liver metabolism clearly differentiates the pharmacokinetics of metformin from that of other biguanides, such as phenformin. Metformin undergoes renal excretion and has a mean plasma elimination half-life after oral administration of between 4.0 and 8.7 hours. This elimination is prolonged in patients with renal impairment and correlates with creatinine clearance. There are only scarce data on the relationship between plasma metformin concentrations and metabolic effects. Therapeutic levels may be 0.5 to 1.0 mg/L in the fasting state and 1 to 2 mg/L after a meal, but monitoring has little clinical value except when lactic acidosis is suspected or present. Indeed, when lactic acidosis occurs in metformin-treated patients, early determination of the metformin plasma concentration appears to be the best criterion for assessing the involvement of the drug in this acute condition. After confirmation of the diagnosis, treatment should rapidly involve forced diuresis or haemodialysis, both of which favour rapid elimination of the drug. Although serious, lactic acidosis due to metformin is rare and may be minimised by strict adherence to prescribing guidelines and contraindications, particularly the presence of renal failure. Finally, only very few drug interactions have been described with metformin in healthy volunteers. Plasma levels may be reduced by guar gum and alpha-glucosidase inhibitors and increased by cimetidine, but no data are yet available in the diabetic population.