Previous work in this laboratory has demonstrated that ovalbumin coupled to palmitoyl residues (palmitoyl-Ova) does not induce oral tolerance. The present study sought to determine whether this coupling affects digestion, absorption and transfer of antigen. Ova and palmitoyl-Ova were shown to be digested differently in vitro by proteolytic enzymes and presented different tissue distribution kinetics after being labelled with (99m)technetium and orally administered to animals. Palmitoyl-Ova remained longer in the stomach, while native Ova was quickly transferred to the gut and other organs. After 3 h, higher levels of palmitoyl-Ova were found in the blood, Peyer's patches, mesenteric lymph nodes, liver and, especially, the spleen, which appears to be essential for immunization with palmitoyl-Ova. In fact, splenectomized mice treated orally with palmitoyl-Ova became tolerant, while tolerance to Ova was not affected. Thus, palmitoyl coupling was demonstrated to affect antigen digestion, absorption and transport. This is the first time that the spleen has been shown to be required for oral immunization with palmitoyl-Ova.