To examine whether the relatively selective inhibition of hepatic cholesterol synthesis by the hydrophilic 3-hydroxyl-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase inhibitor pravastatin in vivo may be due to the existence of a specific uptake mechanism in the liver, the uptake by isolated rat hepatocytes was investigated. The uptake was composed of a saturable component [Michaelis constant (Km) 29 microM, maximal uptake rate 546 pmol.min-1.mg-1] and nonspecific diffusion (nonspecific uptake clearance 1.6 microliters.min-1.mg-1), inhibited by hypothermia, metabolic inhibitors, sulfhydryl-modifying reagents, and inhibitor of anion exchanger, whereas replacement of Na+ by choline+ or Cl- by gluconate- did not alter the uptake. Competitive inhibition was observed by a more highly lipophilic HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor simvastatin (open acid form), dibromosulfophthalein, cholate, and taurocholate. Pravastatin inhibited Na(+)-independent taurocholate uptake with an inhibition constant comparable with the Km value of pravastatin itself. Furthermore, the hepatic permeability clearance in vivo obtained with intact rats was comparable with that in vitro, indicating that the carrier-mediated active transport system we demonstrated in vitro is responsible for the hepatic uptake in vivo. These findings demonstrated that the hepatic uptake of pravastatin occurs via a carrier-mediated active transport mechanism utilizing the so-called multispecific anion transporter, which is common with the Na(+)-independent bile acid uptake system, and that this is one of the mechanisms for its selective inhibition of hepatic cholesterol synthesis in vivo.