The absorption and pharmacokinetics of an active component of Salvia miltiorrhiza, lithospermic acid B (LSB), was investigated after intravenous and oral administration of doses of 10 or 50 mg LSB/kg to rats. Concentrations of LSB were determined by a validated liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS) assay method. After intravenous administration of 50 mg/kg, dose-normalized (10 mg/kg) area under the curve (AUC) (993 microg.min/ml) was significantly greater than that at 10 mg/kg (702 microg.min/ml). The slower clearance Cl-at 50 mg/kg could be due to saturable metabolism of LSB in rats, and this could be supported by significantly slower Cl(NR) and significantly greater 24-h urinary excretion of LSB at 50 mg/kg than at 10 mg/kg. Following oral administration of LSB, the extent of LSB recovered from the entire gastrointestinal tract at 24 h ranged from 41.2% to 23.3%. Although LSB was not detected (limit of quantitation 10 ng/ml) in plasma after oral dose of 10 mg/kg, the absolute oral bioavailability at 50 mg/kg was 5%. Since LSB was shown to have low permeability through the Caco-2 cell monolayers, the low bioavailability of LSB could be due to poor absorption and metabolism.