The present study characterizes for the first time a GSH specific transporter in a human intestinal epithelial cell line (I407). GSH metabolism is very important for the antioxidant and detoxifying action of intestine and for the maintenance of the luminal thiol-disulfide ratio involved in regulation mechanisms of the protein activity of epithelial cells. GSH level decreases have been related to physio-pathological alterations either of intestine or other organs. GSH specific transport systems have been identified in membranes of various cell types of rat, mice and rabbit. The presence of a Na+-independent transport system of GSH is confirmed by the similar behaviour of GSH uptake time-courses when Na+ in extracellular uptake medium was replaced with choline+ or K+ as well as by kinetic saturation and by the trans-stimulation effect on GSH uptake in GSH preloaded cells. Moreover, this transporter is activated when cations are present in extracellular medium and it is affected by membrane potential changes with an increase in GSH uptake values when membrane depolarization occurs. The present results also show a remarkable affinity and specificity of this transporter for GSH; in fact, Km value is very low (90 +/- 20 microM) and only compounds strictly related to GSH structure, such as GSH S-conjugates and GSH-ethyl ester, inhibit GSH uptake in 1407 cells. Finally, a possible hormonal control and modulation by the thiol-disulfide status of GSH transporter activity is suggested.