The usefulness of ATP-depleted rat hepatocytes in transport studies was examined. ATP-depleted hepatocytes were prepared by incubating cell suspensions with 30 microM rotenone. In ATP-depleted hepatocytes, plasma membrane permeability was increased and mitochondrial membrane potential decreased, while both intracellular volume and pH remained normal. Furthermore, in the presence of valinomycin, the initial uptake rates of 3H-tetraphenyl phosphonium (TPP+) with varied medium concentrations of potassium were predicted according to the Goldman-Hodgkin-Katz equation, which demonstrated that a potassium diffusion potential could be produced in this system. Using the thus-characterized ATP-depleted cells, the uptake mechanism of taurocholate was investigated. In the presence of an inwardly directed Na gradient, the taurocholate uptake was markedly stimulated and bile acid was transiently accumulated at a concentration 3-times higher than at equilibrium ('overshoot') in ATP-depleted cells. No overshoot was observed in viable cells, however, which suggests that in ATP-depleted cells the Na gradient, a driving force for taurocholate uptake, decreased with time. In both viable and ATP-depleted cells, the relationship between medium concentrations of Na and the Na-dependent initial uptake rate were sigmoidal, and the Hill coefficients were close to 2. The Na-dependent initial uptake rate of taurocholate was stimulated by a valinomycin-induced inside negative potassium-diffusion potential in ATP-depleted cells, and the movement of a 'one plus' (as a net) charge was revealed by fitting the data to the Goldman-Hodgkin-Katz equation. These results support the hypothesis that sodium-coupled hepatic uptake of taurocholate occuthrough an electrogenic process with the stoichiometry of 2 Na: 1 taurocholate, although this issue is controversial. In the presence of an outwardly directed sodium gradient, efflux of taurocholate from ATP-depleted cells was not stimulated. Consequently, the physiological transport vector of taurocholate from blood to cell is not only due to the direction of the sodium gradient (blood to cell) but also to membraneous orientation of transport carriers. In conclusion, kinetic analysis using ATP-depleted hepatocytes allowed the formulation of a new approach to clarify the as yet unresolved issues concerning transport stoichiometry and the mechanism for vectorial transport of taurocholate.