Sensitive high-performance liquid chromatographic assays have been developed to determine the levels of the lactone and lactone plus carboxylate (total) forms of the antitumor agent irinotecan (CPT-11) and its active metabolite SN-38, in human plasma. The related compound camptothecin was used as the internal standard. The selective sample pretreatment for the lactone forms involved a single solvent extraction with acetonitrile-n-butyl chloride (1:4, v/v), whereas the sample clean-up for the total forms was a simple protein precipitation with aqueous perchloric acid-methanol (1:1, v/v), which results in the conversion of the carboxylate to the lactone forms. Chromatography was carried out on a Hypersil ODS column, with detection performed fluorimetrically. The methods have been validated, and stability tests under various conditions have been performed. The lower limits of quantitation are 0.5 and 2.0 ng/ml for the lactone and total forms, respectively. The assays have been used in a single pharmacokinetic experiment in a patient to investigate the applicability of the method in vivo.