PAH (N-(4-aminobenzoyl)glycin) clearance measurements have been used for 50 years in clinical research for the determination of renal plasma flow. The quantitation of PAH in plasma or urine is generally performed by colorimetric method after diazotation reaction but the measurements must be corrected for the unspecific residual response observed in blank plasma. We have developed a HPLC method to specifically determine PAH and its metabolite NAc-PAH using a gradient elution ion-pair reversed-phase chromatography with UV detection at 273 and 265 nm, respectively. The separations were performed at room temperature on a ChromCart(R) (125 mm x 4 mm I.D.) Nucleosil 100-5 mu m C-18 AB cartridge column, using a gradient elution of MeOH-buffer pH 3.9 1:99-->15:85 over 15 min. The pH 3.9 buffered aqueous solution consisted in a mixture of 375 ml sodium citrate-citric acid solution (21.01 g citric acid and 8.0 g NaOH per liter), added up with 2.7 ml H3PO4 85%, 1.0 g of sodium heptanesulfonate and completed ad 1000 ml with ultrapure water. The N-acetyltransferase activity does not seem to notably affect PAH clearances, although NAc-PAH represents 10.2 +/- 2.7% of PAH excreted unchanged in 12 healthy subjects. The performance of the HPLC and the colorimetric method have been compared using urine and plasma samples collected from healthy volunteers. Good correlations (r = 0.94 and 0.97, for plasma and urine, respectively) are found between the results obtained with both techniques. However, the colorimetric method gives higher concentrations of PAH in urine and lower concentrations in plasma than those determined by HPLC, Hence, both renal (Cl-R) and systemic (Cl-S) clearances are systematically higher (35.1 and 17.8%, respectively) with the colorimetric method. The fraction of PAH excreted by the kidney Cl-R/Cl-S calculated from HPLC data (n = 143) is, as expected, always <1 (mean = 0.73 +/- 0.11), whereas the colorimetric method gives a mean extraction ratio of 0.87 +/- 0.13 implying some unphysiological values (>1). In conclusion, HPLC not only enables the simultaneous quantitation of PAH and NAc-PAH, but may also provide more accurate and precise PAH clearance measurements. (C) 1997 Elsevier Science B.V.