The effect of isonicotinic acid hydrazide (INH), a potent haem inhibitor, on globin chain synthesis was studied in reticulocytes from the following groups of patients: four non-thalassaemic patients (group i); five beta thalassaemia heterozygotes (group ii); three Hb S/beta thalassaemia heterozygotes (group iii); and two additional patients--one with homozygous beta thalassaemia and the other with thalassaemia intermedia (group iv). This was done to determine whether haem inhibitors depress alpha globin chain synthesis. The progressive increase of INH concentration (10-40 mmol l-1) in reticulocytes from a beta thalassaemia heterozygote resulted in a remarkable decrease of the alpha and beta chain synthesis, ranging from 80% to 97% and from 74% to 96% of control values, respectively, and in a gradual drop of alpha:beta ratio from 1.87 to 1.38. Furthermore, in the samples incubated with 40 mmol l-1 INH, a pronounced inhibition of globin chain synthesis 77 (19%) for alpha chain and 67 (27%) for beta or beta S chain) and a substantial drop of the alpha:beta or beta S ratio in samples with INH (median 1.16) compared with that in samples without INH (median 1.70) were observed. The inhibitory effect of INH was significantly or completely corrected by adding exogenous haem. It is suggested that haem inhibition and the resulting preferential diminution of alpha chain synthesis could provide a new approach to the treatment of homozygous beta thalassaemia with an excess of detrimental free alpha chain in erythroid cells.