The plasma clearance of pancuronium in patients with extrahepatic cholestasis was 16% lower than in a control group (1.47 +/- 0.11 ml min-1 kg-1 v. 1.76 +/- 0.21 ml min-1 kg-1), but the difference was not significant. A significant increase in the elimination half-life T 1/2 beta of pancuronium (from 141 to 224 min) and a significant increase in the volume of the peripheral compartment (V2) was found in patients with extrahepatic cholestasis when compared with control patients. There was a significantly lower cumulative biliary excretion of pancuronium (0.3 +/- 0.3% v. 10.9 +/- 3.2% in the controls) during the 48-h period of observation. The biotransformation and cumulative urinary excretion patterns of pancuronium revealed no significant differences between the two groups of patients. The increase of T 1/2 beta pancuronium in patients with extrahepatic cholestasis was mainly a consequence of the increase in the volume of distribution. No significant differences in the plasma clearance, T 1/2 beta or in the volume of distribution were observed with gallamine in the patients with extrahepatic cholestasis when compared with the control group. The cumulative urinary excretion of gallamine during 48 h in both groups of patients was approximately 100%. We concluded that in patients with cholestasis and normal glomerular filtration, gallamine is probably more reliable than pancuronium for neuromuscular blockade.