Previous studies have demonstrated that a human glutathione conjugate transporter, designated as dinitrophenyl-S-glutathione ATPase (DNP-SG ATPase), catalyzed ATP hydrolysis in the presence of several amphiphilic compounds other than glutathione conjugates (Singhal, S. S., R. Sharma, S. Gupta, H. Ahmad, P. Zimniak, A. Radominska, R. Lester, and Y. C. Awasthi. 1991. FEBS [Fed. Eur. Biochem. Soc.] Lett. 281:255-257). We now demonstrate that DNP-SG ATPase purified from human lung and erythrocyte membranes catalyzed the hydrolysis of ATP in the presence of doxorubicin and its metabolites. Doxorubicin-stimulated ATP hydrolysis by DNP-SG ATPase was saturable with respect to doxorubicin (Km 1.2 and 2.8 microM for the lung and erythrocyte enzymes, respectively). Antibodies against DNP-SG ATPase immunoprecipitated the ATP hydrolyzing activity stimulated by doxorubicin, its metabolites, and glutathione conjugates. Inside our vesicles prepared from erythrocyte membranes took up doxorubicin, daunomycin, and vinblastine in an ATP-dependent manner. The uptake was linear with respect to time and vesicle protein, was dependent on ATP and magnesium, was inhibited by heavy metal salts or by heating the vesicles, and was sensitive to both osmolarity and orientation of the vesicles. The transport had an activation energy of 13 kcal/mol, was saturable with respect to both doxorubicin and ATP (Km values of 1.8 microM and 1.9 mM, respectively), and was competitively inhibited by glutathione conjugates as well as by a number of amphiphiles such as daunomycin or vinblastine. Transport was diminished upon coating the vesicles with antibodies against DNP-SG ATPase. Incorporation of increasing amounts of purified DNP-SG ATPase into the vesicles resulted in a linear increase in transport of doxorubicin. These studies demonstrated for the first time that a membrane protein that catalyzed the transport of anionic amphiphilic molecules such as glutathione conjugates could also mediate the transport of weakly cationic antitumor antibiotic, doxorubicin. Notably, the Km of transport was in the range of doxorubicin concentration achievable in human serum after intravenous dosing of doxorubicin.