The development and validation of an assay for the determination of paclitaxel in human plasma, human brain tumor tissue, mouse plasma and mouse brain tumor tissue is described. Paclitaxel was extracted from the matrices using liquid-liquid extraction with tert-butyl methyl ether, followed by chromatographic analysis using an alkaline eluent. Positive ionization electrospray tandem mass spectrometry was performed for selective and sensitive detection. The method was validated according to the FDA guidelines on bioanalytical method validation. Validation results indicate that calibration standards in human plasma can be used to quantify paclitaxel in all tested matrices. In human samples, the validated range for paclitaxel was from 0.25-1000 ng ml(-1) using 200 microl plasma aliquots and from 5 to 5000 ng g(-1) using 50 microl tumor homogenate aliquots (0.2 g tissue ml(-1) control human plasma). In mice, the ranges were 1-1000 ng ml(-1) and 5-5000 ng g(-1) using 50 microl of mouse plasma and 50 microl of tumor homogenate aliquots (0.2 g tissue ml(-1) control human plasma), respectively. The method can be applied to studies generating only small sample volumes (e.g. mouse plasma and tumor tissue), but also to studies in human plasma requiring a lower limit of quantitation. The assay was applied successfully to several studies with both human and mouse samples.