Irinotecan hydrochloride (CPT-11) is an anticancer agent with unpredictable bouts of diarrhea as a dose-limiting toxic side-effect. Since the biliary excretion of its active metabolite (SN-38) and SN-38 glucuronide (SN38-Glu), which are mediated by the multidrug resistance associated protein-2 (MRP2/ABCC2), has been proposed to be related to this gastrointestinal toxicity, we have attempted here to examine the potential of various therapeutic agents to interact with the biliary excretion in order to identify MRP2 inhibitors to prevent this toxicity. The inhibition constants (K(i)) of 26 compounds were examined for the transport of a typical MRP2 substrate in isolated canalicular membrane vesicles. Of these, 13 compounds inhibited the transport with K(i) values from 0.0461 to 281 microM. Three inhibitors (probenecid, sulfobromophthalein and glycyrrhizin) were also found to inhibit the biliary excretion of SN-38 and SN38-Glu in rats in vivo, and the degrees of inhibition were compatible with the estimated values based on the ratios of K(i) and unbound concentrations in circulating plasma. A similar estimation of the potential inhibitory effect in human was also examined by considering both the K(i) of each therapeutic agent and its unbound concentration both in circulating plasma and the inlet to the liver. The predicted degrees of inhibition by most compounds were minimal whereas approximately 75% inhibition was predicted for probenecid. Thus, probenecid may be a candidate which can be used clinically to inhibit the biliary excretion of CPT-11 metabolites, whereas an interaction between most of the other compounds and MRP2 is more unlikely.