The objective was to develop and validate a routine assay for active intracellular anabolites of stavudine (d4T), a nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor in human PBMC, applicable to pharmacokinetic studies and treatment monitoring. This was achieved using liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS), which theoretically allies optimum sensitivity, specificity and high sample throughput. After cellular lysis in a Tris/methanol buffer, the extract spiked with 2[H8]-ATP (internal standard) is directly injected into the LC/MS/MS system. Phosphorylated metabolites of d4T as well as deoxythymidine-triphosphate, the competitor on the reverse transcriptase, are separated from d4T on a reverse-phase microbore column with ion pairing. The detection is performed in the multiple reaction monitoring (MRM) mode after drug ionisation in negative mode electrospray. The limit of quantitation for d4T-TP was 138 fmol per 7 mL blood (9.8 fmol per 106 cells) and CV% for repeatability and intermediate precision were lower than 15%. Stability of compounds was checked before and during the process of isolation of PBMC. Cellular samples from several d4T-treated patients were successfully analysed using this method and d4T-triphosphate and deoxythymidine triphosphate were recovered. In conclusion, we have developed and validated a routine LC/MS/MS method that allows the simultaneous determination of mono-, di- and triphosphorylated anabolites of d4T in PBMC as well as the natural corresponding triphosphate in one analysis. For the first time, the chain terminator ratio (d4T-TP/dT-TP) could be directly measured. This method can be used simply and routinely on more than 35 samples per day. Extension to other nucleoside analogues is under development. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.