Liquid crystalline gels (LCG) offer the formulator dynamic and flexible vehicles, into which actives, enhancers and other adjuvants with a wide range of physicochemical properties can be incorporated. This is achievable because of the biphasic oil/water composition of the gel. In this paper, the suitability of an isotropic liquid crystalline gel is investigated for a range of anionic drug molecules, with particular emphasis on sodium diclofenac. Parameters, which have been investigated, include the mode of vehicle preparation, the effect of the concentration of the drug and how buffering the gel and/or the receptor medium affect the release profiles. Such profiles have been measured for the sodium salts of benzoate, salicylate and indomethacin. The passive release from the standard system was found to adhere to matrix-controlled diffusion. An increase in concentration leads to a non-linear increase in the cumulative release of sodium diclofenac from the gels. In direct contrast to the result reported for cationic salbutamol base, optimum release from the gel was achieved when neither the receptor medium nor the aqueous phase of the gel was buffered. The percentages released of the sodium salts of benzoate, salicylate and indomethacin, after 24 h, were determined to be 25, 26 and 19%, respectively, and these are significantly greater than the release of sodium diclofenac. This suggests that diclofenac undergoes ion-pairing or complexation within the gel, which inhibits its diffusion from the vehicle. Future papers will report on the incorporation of enhancers and the effects of iontophoresis on the release profiles of drugs from these gels, and ultimately on the transdermal transport of drugs from these vehicles across human and porcine skin. (C) 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.