These studies were designed to determine whether pteroylmonoglutamic acid (PGA) at physiologic concentrations is transported across the small intestine unaltered or is reduced and methylated to the circulating folate form (5-methyltetrahydrofolate [5-MeFH(4)]) during absorption. [(3)H]PGA was incubated in vitro on the mucosal side of rat jejunum. Of the folate transferred to the serosal side, the percent identified as 5-MeFH(4) by DEAE-Sephadex chromtography was inversely related to the initial mucosa PGA concentration: at 7, 20, and 2,000 nM, 44%, 34%, and 2%, respectively, was converted to 5-MeFH(4). In contrast, less than 4% of the folate transferred across ileal mucosa was 5-MeFH(4) when the initial mucosa concentration was 20 nM. Specific activity of dihydrofolate (DHF) reductase, the enzyme responsible for converting PGA to tetrahydrofolic acid, was measured in villus homogenates and was significantly greater in the jejunum than in the ileum. 1,000 nM methotrexate (MTX), a DHF reductase inhibitor, markedly inhibited PGA conversion to 5-MeFH(4) by the jejunum. Studies of transmural flux, initial rate of mucosal entry (influx) and mucosal accumulation (uptake) of folate were also performed. Although MTX did not alter the influx of PGA, MTX decreased jejunal mucosal uptake but increased transmural movement. Transmural folate movement across ileal mucosa was greater than across jejunal mucosa although mucosal uptake was greater in the jejunum than in the ileum. These results could explain previous studies which have failed to identify conversion of PGA to 5-MeFH(4) when intestinal preparations have been exposed to higher and less physiologic concentrations of PGA. Further, these studies suggest that 5-MeFH(4) may be retained by the jejunal mucosa.