Sulfo-N-succinimidyl esters of LCFAs are a powerful tool to investigate the functional significance of plasmalemmal proteins in the LCFA uptake process. This notion is based on the following observations. First, sulfo-N-succinimidyl oleate (SSO) was found to inhibit the bulk of LCFA uptake into various cell types, i.e. rat adipocytes, type II pneumocytes and cardiac myocytes. Second, using cardiac giant membrane vesicles, in which LCFA uptake can be investigated in the absence of mitochondrial beta-oxidation, SSO retained the ability to largely inhibit LCFA uptake, indicating that inhibition of LCFA transsarcolemmal transport is its primary action. Third, SSO has no inhibitory effect on glucose and octanoate uptake into giant membrane vesicles derived from heart and skeletal muscle, indicating that its action is specific for LCFA uptake. Finally, SSO specifically binds to the 88 kDa plasmalemmal fatty acid transporter FAT, a rat homologue of human CD36, resulting in an arrest of the transport function of this protein. In addition to its inhibitory action at the plasma membrane level, evidence is presented for the lack of a direct inhibitory effect on subsequent LCFA metabolism. First, the relative contribution of oxidation and esterification to LCFA uptake is not altered in the presence of SSO. Second, isoproterenol-mediated channeling of LCFAs into oxidative pathways is not affected by sulfo-N-succinimidyl palmitate (SSP). As an example of its application, we used SSP to study the role of FAT/CD36 in contraction- and insulin-stimulated LCFA uptake by cardiac myocytes, showing that this transporter is a primary site of regulation of cellular LCFA utilization.