Tritiated methylphenylpyridinium ([3H]MPP+), a substrate of the neuronal and extraneuronal noradrenaline transporter (uptake1 and uptake2, respectively) and of the organic cation transporter (OCT1), was used to characterize the amine transport system of the established human glioma cell line SK-MG-1. Uptake of [3H]MPP+ (25 nM) into SK-MG-1 cells increased linearly with time for up to 15 min. Selective uptake1 inhibitors (e.g. (+)oxaprotiline) or omission of Na+ or Cl-ions did not affect [3H]MPP+ uptake, whereas uptake2 inhibitors such as O-methyl-isoprenaline (OMI) or corticosterone as well as depolarizing concentrations of K+ or Ba2+ strongly reduced [3H]MPP+ uptake. Initial rates of OMI(100 microM)-sensitive [3H]MPP+ uptake were saturable, with a K(m) of about 17 microM and a maximal rate of about 50 pmol/(min x mg protein). IC50 (or Ki) values for inhibition of [3H]MPP+ uptake by substrates and inhibitors of uptake2 or OCT1 were highly significantly correlated with published IC50 values for inhibition of uptake2 but not with corresponding values for inhibition of OCT1. The results presented here clearly demonstrate that human glioma cells express an uptake2 transporter. Thus, glial cells in the human central nervous system endowed with this transporter are likely to contribute to the inactivation of neuronally released noradrenaline.