We studied the effect of phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA), a phorbol ester which activates protein kinase C, on p-aminohippurate (PAH) transport in OK cells. PMA (10(-7) M) almost completely inhibited the transcellular transport of PAH across OK cell monolayers from the basal to the apical side, as well as the accumulation of PAH in the cells. The uptake of PAH across the basolateral membrane of OK cells was inhibited by PMA in a time-and dose-dependent fashion. Exposing the cells with other protein kinase C activators such as active phorbol esters and diacylglycerols also resulted in a significant inhibition of basolateral PAH uptake, but the inactive phorbol ester, 4 alpha-phorbol 12,13-didecanoate, had no effect. The inhibition of basolateral PAH uptake by PMA was blocked by staurosporine, an inhibitor of protein kinase C. Cycloheximide, actinomycin D, colchicine, and cytochalasin D did not affect the inhibitory effect of PMA on basolateral PAH uptake. These results suggested that the PAH transport system in OK cells is under the regulatory control of protein kinase C.