The pharmacokinetics of imipenem-cilastatin were investigated in 12 critically ill patients with acute renal failure (ARF) managed by continuous veno-venous hemofiltration (CVVH) while receiving a fixed combination of 500 mg of imipenem-cilastatin intravenously three or four times daily. No adverse drug reactions were observed. Plasma and hemofiltrate samples were taken at specified times during one dosing interval, and the concentrations of imipenem and cilastatin were determined by high-performance liquid chromatography. Pharmacokinetic variables were calculated by a first-order, two-compartment pharmacokinetic model for both substances. Total clearances of imipenem and cilastatin (mean +/- standard deviations) were 122.2 +/- 28.6 and 29.2 +/- 13.7 ml/min, respectively, with hemofiltration clearances of 22.9 +/- 2.5 and 16.1 +/- 3.1 ml/min, respectively, and nonrenal, nonhemofiltration clearances of 90.8 +/- 26.3 and 13.2 +/- 13.9 ml/min, respectively. Mean imipenem dosage requirements were approximately 2,000 mg/24 h (2,111.8 +/- 493.4 mg/24 h). They were calculated in order to achieve an average steady-state concentration of 12 mg/liter to ensure that concentrations in plasma exceeded the MICs at which 90% of intermediately resistent bacteria are inhibited (8 mg/liter) during the majority of the dosing interval. By contrast, the recommended dosage for patients with end-stage renal failure (ESRF) and infections caused by intermediately resistant bacteria is 1,000 mg/24 h. This remarkable difference may be due (i) to differences in the nonrenal clearance of imipenem between patients with ARF and ESRF and (ii) to the additional clearance by the hemofilter. Since the total clearance of cilastatin was low, marked accumulation occurred, and this was particularly pronounced in patients with additional liver dysfunction. Thus, in patients with ARF managed by CVVH, rather high imipenem doses are required, and these inevitably result in a marked accumulation of cilastatin. The doses of imipenem recommended for patients with ESRF, however, will lead to underdosing and inadequate antibiotic therapy.