This article represents the first evidence that the renal secretion of the commonly used drug, digoxin, is mediated by P-glycoprotein. In this study, it was demonstrated that digoxin is a substrate of P-glycoprotein, and the mechanism of a clinically important drug interaction, such as digoxin-quinidine, was elucidated. Human P-glycoprotein was expressed on the apical membrane of the porcine kidney epithelial cell line, LLC-PK1 by transfecting with human MDR1 cDNA. The expression and function of P-glycoprotein were confirmed by Southern and Western blotting, RNase protection assay, immunostaining and transporting activity for vinblastine. The transepithelial transport of [3H]digoxin was measured across the cell monolayers grown on microporous polycarbonate membrane filters. The transfectant cells exhibited markedly greater basal-to-apical transport and less apical-to-basal transport than the host cells, and the former was 8-fold greater than the latter. The augmented transepithelial transport resulted from the increased efflux from cells to apical side. This oriented transport was inhibited by the presence of 20 microM vinblastine, quinidine or verapamil. The rate of efflux to the apical side was 2-fold greater than that to the basal side. Quinidine inhibited the efflux to the apical side but did not affect transport into the basal side. These findings demonstrate that digoxin is transported by human P-glycoprotein, which is a previously undiscovered drug transport system in the kidney other than organic cation and anion transport systems, and suggest a molecular mechanism for the renal tubular secretion of digoxin as well as clinically important digoxin-quinidine interaction via P-glycoprotein.