Metabolic control analysis of tumor glycolysis has indicated that hexokinase (HK) and glucose transporter (GLUT) exert the main flux control (71%). To understand why they are the main controlling steps, the GLUT and HK kinetics and the contents of GLUT1, GLUT2, GLUT3, GLUT4, HKI, and HKII were analyzed in rat hepatocarcinoma AS-30D and HeLa human cervix cancer. An improved protocol to determine the kinetic parameters of GLUT was developed with D-[2-(3)H-glucose] as physiological substrate. Kinetic analysis revealed two components at low- and high-glucose concentrations in both tumor cells. At low glucose and 37 degrees C, the V(max) was 55 +/- 20 and 17.2 +/- 6 nmol (min x mg protein)(-1), whereas the K(m) was 0.52 +/- 0.7 and 9.3 +/- 3 mM for hepatoma and HeLa cells, respectively. GLUT activity was partially inhibited by cytochalasin B (IC(50) = 0.44 +/- 0.1; K(i) = 0.3 +/- 0.1 microM) and phloretin (IC(50) = 8.7 microM) in AS-30D hepatocarcinoma. At physiological glucose, GLUT1 and GLUT3 were the predominant active isoforms in HeLa cells and AS-30D cells, respectively. HK activity in HeLa cells was much lower (60 mU/mg protein) than that in AS-30D cells (700 mU/mg protein), but both HKs were strongly inhibited by G6P. HKII was the predominant isoform in AS-30D carcinoma and HeLa cells. The much lower GLUT V(max) and catalytic efficiency (V(max)/K(m)) values in comparison to those of G6P-sensitive HK suggested the transporter exerts higher control on the glycolytic flux than HK in cancer cells. Thus, GLUT seems a more adequate therapeutic target.