The effects on uptake and biodistribution of radiolabelled lipopolysaccharide (LPS) due to changing routes of administration, encapsulation of LPS within liposomes and altering liposomal surface charge were examined in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). 3H-labelled LPS, positively- and negatively-charged (14C-labelled) liposomes or 14C-labelled liposomes containing 3H-LPS were administered to trout via intravenous, intraperitoneal, intramuscular, or oral routes. Twenty-four hours following administration, relative uptake of LPS and multilamellar vesicles (MLV) based on detection of 3H and 1AC, respectively, was determined in samples taken from the kidney, spleen, liver, plasma, blood cells and skeletal muscle. In general, regardless of the route of administration, 3H-LPS, 1AC-MLV and liposomally encapsulated LPS were recovered primarily in the kidney and spleen. Intravenous administration resulted in the greatest uptake of radiolabel by the kidney and spleen, followed by the intraperitoneal and intramuscular routes. Although oral administration yielded the lowest overall uptake of labelled material, detection of 3H and 14C in the liver was enhanced when compared with the other routes. Negatively-charged MLV were delivered more efficiently to the kidney and spleen than positively-charged MLV; but negatively- and positively-charged MLV containing LPS demonstrated the opposite relationship between charge and distribution among the kidney and spleen. These results suggest that liposomal encapsulation (particularly within positively-charged MLV) enhances delivery of LPS to the primary hemopoietic organs in rainbow trout. © 1994 Informa UK Ltd All rights reserved: reproduction in whole or part not permitted.