The presence of mixed disaccharides (maltose and isomaltose) in plasma from uremic patients has been previously investigated using gel-permeation chromatography. However, this method is unable to separate maltose (linked alpha-1-4) from isomaltose (linked alpha-1-6). We describe an alternative method using high-performance anion-exchange chromatography with pulsed amperometric detection (HPAE-PAD) for the direct determination of maltose and isomaltose in uremic plasma. We measured maltose and isomaltose using HPAE-PAD in 6 normal subjects and in 15 uremic patients before and after once-daily icodextrin administration for at least 4 weeks. Both maltose and isomaltose were below limits of detection (< 1.0 mg/L) in plasma from normal controls. Patients with end-stage renal disease treated by continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis had elevated levels of isomaltose (23.6 +/- 8.3 mg/L) but low levels of maltose (< 3.0 mg/L). Treatment with icodextrin resulted in elevated plasma levels of maltose (range: 500-1600 mg/L), while levels of isomaltose declined to 9.8 +/- 5.2 mg/L (P < 0.0001 vs. baseline levels). We conclude that isomaltose (not maltose) is the primary disaccharide isomer that is elevated in the plasma of uremic patients, whereas maltose is the primary disaccharide isomer that is elevated following icodextrin administration. Furthermore, icodextrin administration results in an apparent reduction of isomaltose. Additional investigation will be required to address the mechanism for the reduction of isomaltose in patients treated by icodextrin.