Organic anion secretion by human hepatocytes was characterized using primary liver parenchymal cell cultures and the anionic fluorescent dye carboxy-2',7'-dichlorofluorescein (CF). Probenecid, a well-known common blocker of the membrane transport process for anions, was shown to increase CF accumulation in primary human hepatocytes by inhibiting cellular CF efflux in a dose-dependent manner, thereby establishing the presence of an efflux system for organic anions in cultured hepatocytes. Outwardly directed transport of CF from hepatocytes was found to be temperature-dependent; it was not altered by changes in the ionic composition of the incubation medium used in efflux experiments. In addition to probenecid, various structurally and functionally unrelated xenobiotics such as glibenclamide, rifampicin, vinblastine, MK-571, indomethacin, and cyclosporin A were shown to inhibit secretion of CF by primary human hepatocytes, thus suggesting that organic anion excretion by human liver may be impaired by various drugs. Northern blot and Western blot analyses of the expression of multidrug resistance proteins (MRP), such as MRP1 and MRP2, which are known to mediate cellular outwardly directed transport of organic anions indicated that MRP2 was present at substantial levels in cultured human hepatocytes as well as in their in vivo counterparts, whereas MRP1 expression was only barely detectable. These results therefore suggest that MRP2, unlike MRP1, may contribute to the organic anion efflux system displayed by primary human hepatocytes and inhibited by a wide range of xenobiotics.