A highly sensitive and specific atmospheric pressure chemical ionization liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry method was developed for serum pharmacokinetic studies of puerarin in rats. Chromatography was carried out on a reversed-phase Phenomenex Synergi 4 microm Fusion-RP80 column (150 x 2.0 mm i.d.) using a mobile phase consisting of acetonitrile-water (10:90, v/v) in 10 mm NH(4)OAc with a flow rate of 0.2 mL/min. Puerarin was analyzed in the multiple reaction monitoring mode with a precursor/product ion transition of m/z 415/267. The method was demonstrated to be specific and sensitive, and a linear response was observed over a range of 2-5000 ng/mL in rat serum. The validated method was successfully applied to the characterization of the pharmacokinetics of puerarin in rat serum after oral administration to spontaneously hypertensive rats. The blood concentration-time profile of puerarin showed a rapid initial increase, reaching a maximum and then declining within 1 h. Puerarin could not be detected after 24 h. The main pharmacokinetic parameters for puerarin after oral administration were as follows: C(max) (3.54 +/- 2.03 mg/L), T(max) (0.68 +/- 0.37 h), AUC(0-t) (7.29 +/- 3.79 mg h/L), AUC(0-infinity) (9.17 +/- 4.87 mg h/L), T(1/2) (1.7 +/- 0.6 h), CL/F (7.24 +/- 4.27 L/h/kg) and V/F (17.88 +/- 13.55 L/h/kg).