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Caffeine and theophylline block the vasodilating effects of adenosine and may act to enhance sympathoadrenal discharge and activate the renin-angiotensin system. To determine if these methylxanthines might thereby have effects on regional blood flow, we studied the influence of caffeine and theophylline on apparent liver plasma flow (LPF) in normal subjects as assessed by indocyanine green clearance. Oral caffeine, 250 mg, reduced LPF by 19% from 630 +/- 150 to 510 +/- 120 ml/min (P less than 0.001). Intravenous theophylline (4.3 mg/kg) reduced LPF by 15% from 550 +/- 50 to 470 +/- 90 ml/min (P less than 0.05). These methylxanthine-induced falls in LPF may alter the disposition of concomitantly administered drugs. Because of their widespread use in Western society, caffeine and theophylline may be major determinants of liver blood flow in the general population. They may therefore prolong the t1/2 and increase steady-state levels of hepatically eliminated drugs.