In this study the construction and in vivo testing of antibiotic-loaded polyhydroxyalkanoate rods were planned for use in the treatment of implant-related osteomyelitis. The rods were constructed of poly(3-hydroxybutyrare-co-3-hydroxyvalerate) and poly(3hydroxybutyrate-co-4-hydroxybutyrate), carrying 50% (w/w) Sulperazone(R) or Duocid(R). They were implanted in rabbit tibia in which implant-related osteomyelitis (IRO) had been induced with Staphylococcus aureus. The effectiveness of the antibiotics in the treatment of IRO was determined. The establishment of IRO with bacterial inoculation was complete after 3 weeks with 100% infection rate in all groups. There was no contamination or super-infection. Both antibiotics were found to be highly effective against the bacteria. Following the application of Sulperazone-P(3-HB-co-4-HB) rods, no infective agents could be isolated from the infection site within the 6-week test period, indicating complete treatment of the infection. Macroscopical evaluation at follow-up revealed no drainage, minimal swelling and increase in local warmth, most probably due to the surgery rather than to a reaction towards the implant. The overall scores for radiological findings by the end of 6 weeks were 0.8/5 for the antibiotic-loaded rod implanted in the right limb, and 1.1/5 For the antibiotic-free rod implanted in the left limb. There was no statistical difference between the antibiotic-loaded and antibiotic-free polymeric rods. In vivo drug release was almost complete within the first week. One interesting observation, however, was that the therapy was still very effective even when the release rate was very high. In the SEM of in vitro tested rods, the polymeric component was unchanged in 2 weeks while the drug leached out, leaving voids behind. In vivo, however, the morphology of the implant was significantly modified within 6 weeks post-implantation. Since a substantial degree of the in vivo drug release was complete within 1 week, we believe that dissolution of the drug must be the predominant mechanism through which the drug release is controlled. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.