Transport of benzo[alpha]pyrene (BaP) across the placenta was examined because it is a ubiquitous and highly carcinogenic substance found in tobacco smoke, polluted air and certain foods. Foetal exposure to this substance is highly relevant but is difficult to estimate. The human placenta is unique compared to other species; since it is available without major ethical obstacles, we have used the human placenta perfusion model to study transport from mother to foetus. Placentas were donated after births at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen from pregnant mothers who signed an informed consent. BaP is lipophilic and studies using cell culture medium in 6-hr placenta perfusions showed minimal transport through the placenta. To increase the solubility of BaP in perfusion medium and to increase physiological relevance, perfusions were also performed with albumin added to the perfusion medium [2 and 30 mg/ml bovine serum albumin (BSA) and 30 mg/ml human serum albumin (HSA)]. The addition of albumin resulted in increased transfer of BaP from maternal to foetal reservoirs. The transfer was even higher in the presence of an HSA formulation containing acetyltryptophanate and caprylate, resulting in a foetal-maternal concentration (FM) ratio of 0.71 +/- 0.10 after 3 hr and 0.78 +/- 0.11 after 6 hr, whereas the FM ratio in perfusions without albumin was only 0.05 +/- 0.03 after 6 hr of perfusion. Less BaP accumulated in placental tissue in perfusions with added albumin. This shows that transplacental transport of the pro-carcinogenic substance BaP occurs, and emphasizes the importance of adding physiological concentrations of albumin when studying the transport of lipophilic substances.