The purpose of this study was to provide further insight into the mechanism of bilirubin diglucuronide excretion through the hepatocyte canalicular membrane by investigating the uptake of (3H)bilirubin diglucuronide by purified canalicular membrane vesicles of rat liver. The uptake was analyzed by a rapid filtration technique. The difference between vesicle-associated (3H)bilirubin diglucuronide at 37 degrees C and at 0 degree C during the initial 1 min was regarded as uptake. Twenty second uptake was saturated by increasing the (3H)bilirubin diglucuronide concentration at a vesicle-inside-directed 100 mmol/L KCl gradient (Km = 75 mumol/L, Vmax = 320 pmol/mg protein.20 sec at 37 degrees C). No sodium dependency was observed. When canalicular membrane vesicles were preincubated with nonlabeled bilirubin diglucuronide, the uptake increased 1.3-fold (transstimulation). Vesicle-inside-positive potential induced by valinomycin and potassium caused a 1.4-fold increase in the uptake. When Cl- was replaced by equivalent ion concentrations of SO4(2-), HCO3-, NO3- and SCN-, the uptake was 78%, 244%, 68% and 50%, respectively, and specific stimulation by HCO3- was observed (Km = 75 mumol/L, Vmax = 700 pmol/mg protein.20 sec at a vesicle-inside-directed 100 mmol/L KHCO3 gradient at 37 degrees C). The uptake was inhibited in a dose-dependent manner by the addition of 4,4'-diisothiocyanatostilbene-2,2'-disulfonic acid. The uptake was ATP independent. From these results, it was concluded that bilirubin diglucuronide transport through the canalicular membrane is carrier mediated, electrogenic and stimulated by HCO3-.