We investigated the effects of 17 alpha-ethinylestradiol treatment of rats on various transport functions in isolated basolateral and canalicular liver plasma membrane vesicles. Both membrane subfractions were purified to a similar degree from control and cholestatic livers. Although moderate membrane lipid alterations were predominantly observed in basolateral vesicles, no change in basolateral Na+/K(+)-ATPase activity was found. Furthermore, while Na(+)-dependent taurocholate uptake was decreased by approximately 40% in basolateral vesicles, the maximal velocity of ATP-dependent taurocholate transport was decreased by 63% in canalicular membranes. In contrast, only minimal changes or no changes at all were observed for electrogenic taurocholate transport in "cholestatic" canalicular membranes and total microsomes, respectively. However, canalicular vesicles from cholestatic livers also exhibited marked reductions in ATP-dependent transport of S-(2,4-dinitrophenyl)glutathione and in Na(+)-dependent uptake of adenosine, while in the same vesicles HCO3-/SO4- exchange and Na+/glycine cotransport activities were markedly stimulated. These data show that in addition to the previously demonstrated sinusoidal transport abnormalities ethinylestradiol-induced cholestasis is also associated with multiple canalicular membrane transport alterations in rat liver. Hence, functional transport alterations at both polar surface domains might ultimately be responsible for the inhibitory effects of estrogens on the organic anion excretory capacity and on bile formation in rat liver.