In human erythrocytes, the intracellular presence of malarial parasites (Plasmodium falciparum) markedly changed the permeation characteristics of the nucleosides, adenosine and tubercidin, an adenosine analogue. We report parasite-induced changes in the kinetics of cellular uptake of the nucleosides and in the appearance in infected cells of a nucleoside permeation route of low sensitivity to the classical inhibitor of erythrocytic nucleoside transport, nitrobenzylthioinosine (NBMPR). These changes and a diminution in NBMPR effectiveness during parasite maturation to the trophozoite or schizont stage, suggest the presence in the infected cells of an altered or new nucleoside permeation mechanism of low sensitivity to NBMPR. The incorporation of adenosine into polynucleotides was also of low sensitivity to 10 microM NBMPR. Binding studies of [3H]NBMPR with both normal erythrocytes and those harbouring parasites at each morphological stage indicated that fewer high affinity NBMPR binding sites were present on cells containing mature parasites than on the uninfected cells. The apparent low sensitivity to NBMPR of nucleoside permeation in erythrocytes containing P. falciparum forms may enable therapeutic measures with cytotoxic nucleosides to be directed with selectivity toward parasite-containing cells.