Observations on the uptake of tyramine by hepatocytes indicate that the amine is taken up by simple diffusion and a transporter mediated system, with a Km of 39 microM and a Vmax of 270 pmol/min/10(5) cells. The carrier-mediated process is pH- and temperature-dependent and requires an activation energy of 12.9 kcal/mol. An overshoot uptake is achieved a few minutes after adding this amine to the cell suspension, suggesting that active transport is involved. This is supported by the finding that partial inhibition of the uptake can be induced by oligomycin, azide, cyanide and dinitrophenol. NO3-, SCN- and SO4(2-), which change the membrane potential significantly, and depress the transporter mediated uptake further, suggesting that the membrane potential is the driving force for the entry of this amine across hepatic membrane. Cysteine is essential for the normal carrier function; whereas, histidine, tryptophan, arginine and lysine do not directly deal with the activity of the carrier. Many substances, but not amino acids, H, M, and N receptor agonists, can inhibit the uptake of tyramine. It is possible that other amines can enter hepatocytes by using this transporter.