Recent studies using bile canalicular membrane vesicles have suggested that P-glycoprotein may play a role in excreting some anticancer drugs from the liver to the bile. At steady state after a continuous single-pass perfusion of a tracer concentration of [3H]vincristine in the rat liver, the extraction ratio was approximately 0.6, and 70% of the extracted drug was excreted into the bile mostly in unchanged form. The liver/perfusate and bile/liver unbound concentration ratios obtained after correction for intracellular binding and the inside-negative membrane potentials and/or pH difference between the inside and outside of the cells, were approximately 2-3 and 160-280, respectively, suggesting a highly concentrated biliary excretion process. We also examined the effects of verapamil, a P-glycoprotein-related transport inhibitor in cancer cells, on the hepatobiliary transport of [3H]vincristine. Verapamil 50 microM in the perfusate caused a decrease in the biliary excretion rate of [3H]vincristine, whereas [14C]taurocholate (reference compound) remained constant. In contrast, the hepatic uptake rate of [3H]vincristine exhibited minimum reduction, suggesting that verapamil selectively inhibited the biliary excretion of [3H]vincristine at the canalicular membrane. The fact that verapamil had little effect on the initial velocity of [3H]vincristine uptake by isolated hepatocytes also supports the above findings. Since the effect of 150 microM verapamil in the perfusate was not selective for vincristine, the biliary excretion rates of both compounds ([3H]vincristine, [14C]taurocholate) were reduced by this concentration of verapamil. In conclusion, the concentrative excretion of vincristine into the bile and its selective inhibition by a moderate concentration of verapamil provide indirect evidence for the contribution of P-glycoprotein to the biliary excretion of vincristine in a perfused rat liver system.