The absolute oral bioavailability of a sustained release theophylline tablet (Nuelin-SR250), given 12 hourly was determined in 14 asthmatic children aged 5 to 13 years. In 4 of the patients, mean bioavailability of the fourth dose was 38.9±8.4% and that of the sixth dose was 67.9±25.9% (p<0.05) in the other ten patients. This suggests steady-state had not been achieved after four doses. In the initial study with 9 patients, a significant diurnal variation in predose plasma theophylline concentrations was observed, as the mean morning predose concentrations were 2.9 fold greater than the mean evening predose concentrations (p<0.005). Dual peak plasma concentrations occurred in 5 out of the 9 patients. The mechanism of this diurnal variation was investigated in a further 5 asthmatic children (10.8 years ±1.6). Morning and night steady-state plasma theophylline concentrations during a continuous intravenous infusion of aminophylline were not different (14.9±5.3 mg/l vs. 15.6±5.9 mg/l), demonstrating that there was no diurnal variation in the plasma clearance of theophylline. The diurnal variation in predose concentrations with Neulin-SR250 was confirmed with the morning concentrations again being 2.6 fold greater than those in the evening. However, bioavailability was not significantly different for day (09.00-21.00) and night (21.00-09.00) dosing intervals after doses 6 and 7 respectively of Nuelin-SR250. The plasma concentration versus time profiles suggested that the diurnal variation in predose concentrations was due to slower absorption of the evening dose.