The role of plasma proteins on the cellular uptake of lipophilic substrates has perplexed investigators for many years. We tested the hypothesis that an ionic interaction between the protein-ligand complex and hepatocyte surface may be responsible for supplying more ligand to the cell for uptake. The surface-charged groups on albumin were modified to yield proteins having a range of isoelectric points (ALB, ALBs, ALBm, ALBe had values of 4.8-5.0, 4.5-4.7, 3.0-3.5, 8.4-8.6, respectively). [3H]-Palmitate uptake studies were performed with adult rat hepatocyte suspensions using similar unbound ligand fractions in the presence of the different binding proteins. Mass spectrometry, isoelectric focusing (pI), and heptane:water partitioning were used to determine protein molecular weight, pI, and protein-palmitate equilibrium binding constant, respectively. Hepatocyte [3H]-palmitate clearance in the presence of ALBs and ALBm were significantly lower (p < 0.05) than ALB, whereas [3H]-palmitate clearance in the presence of ALBe was significantly higher (p < 0.05) than ALB. The data were consistent with the notion that ionic interactions between extracellular protein-ligand complexes and the hepatocyte surface facilitate the uptake of long-chain fatty acids.