A photoactivatable porphyrin, tetra(4-sulphonatophenyl)porphine (TPPS4), was shown to accumulate in rat hepatocytes as a linear function of dose after intravenous injection, and to localize predominantly in hepatocytic lysosomes. A major fraction of the lysosomal enzymes acid phosphatase and N-acetyl-beta-D-glucosaminidase was inactivated by TPPS4 after 20 h of contact with the drug in vivo in the absence of photoactivation. On exposure of isolated hepatocytes to light, photoactivated TPPS4 caused additional inactivation of the lysosomal enzymes as well as inactivation of intralysosomal lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), a cytosolic enzyme that accumulated in lysosomes as a result of autophagy during a 2 h incubation of hepatocytes at 37 degrees C in the dark (in the presence of the proteinase inhibitor leupeptin to prevent degradation of intralysosomal LDH). Photoactivation of TPPS4 also induced lysosomal rupture, with a loss of lysosomal enzymes, autophagocytosed LDH, endocytosed 125I-tyramine-cellobiose-asialo-orosomucoid and TPPS4 from the lysosomes. However, LDH-containing autophagosomes, accumulated in the presence of vinblastine (a microtubule inhibitor used to prevent the fusion of lysosomes with autophagosomes or endosomes), were not affected by TPPS4. TPPS4 may thus be useful as a selective lysosomal (or endosomal) perturbant in the study of autophagic-endocytic-lysosomal interactions.