Mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) a potent immunosuppressive agent, has recently been approved for clinical use (CellCept) in renal transplant patients in combination with cyclosporine (CsA). With the expanded use of tacrolimus (Prograf) as well in renal transplant patients, there is a lack of pharmacokinetic studies clarifying drug interactions between the three agents. A pharmacokinetic study was performed on 18 stable renal transplant patients receiving MMF and tacrolimus together, and four control groups, one receiving tacrolimus alone, two receiving CsA, in combination with MMF (1.0 or 1.5 g bid), and one receiving CsA microemulsion (Neoral). Area-under-the-curve values were calculated for each drug to assess if there was a reciprocal effect on the respective bioavailability of each. In vitro, the immunosuppressive effect of trough level plasma from each patient group was studied using mixed lymphocyte culture (MLC), as well as MLC reactions spiked with various combinations of each drug. There was a minimal effect of MMF on tacrolimus pharmacokinetics. However, patients receiving tacrolimus and MMF displayed significantly higher levels (Cmin and area under the curve) of mycophenolic acid (MPA) than those receiving CsA (Sandimmune or Neoral) and the same dose of MMF (50.2 +/- 16.5 vs 32.1 +/- 16.7 micrograms h/ml AUC, p < 0.02). Equivalent MPA levels could be attained in patients receiving CsA if the MMF dose was increased by 50% (1.5 g bid). There were also significantly lower levels of the glucuronide metabolite of MPA (MPAG) (755 +/- 280 vs 1230 +/- 250 micrograms h/ml AUC, p = 0.02), suggesting a specific inhibition (either direct or indirect) of the conversion of MPA to MPAG in tacrolimus patients, as opposed to those receiving CsA. For each drug combination, there was a positive correlation between the plasma immunosuppressive effect seen in MLC assays and the MMF dose. In addition, trough plasma from patients receiving tacrolimus and MMF was significantly more MLC inhibitory than from those receiving CsA or CsA microemulsion and equivalent-dose MMF. Culture media containing MPA and tacrolimus equal to clinical therapeutic trough concentrations (10 ng/ml) were significantly more MLC inhibitory than CsA at equivalent clinical therapeutic trough concentrations (200 ng/ml) with equivalent MPA levels. These studies in renal transplant patients suggest that tacrolimus in combination with MMF may result in a greater degree of immunosuppression than may be anticipated.