Human P-glycoprotein (Pgp), a plasma membrane protein that confers multidrug resistance, functions as an ATP-dependent drug efflux pump. Pgp contains two ATP binding/utilization sites and exhibits ATPase activity that is stimulated in the presence of substrates and modulating agents. The mechanism of coupling of ATP hydrolysis to drug transport is not known. To understand the role of ATP hydrolysis in drug binding, it is necessary to develop methods for purifying and reconstituting Pgp that retains properties including stimulation of ATPase activity by known substrates to an extent similar to that in the native membrane. In this study, (His)6-tagged Pgp was expressed in Trichoplusia ni (High Five) cells using the recombinant baculovirus system and purified by metal affinity chromatography. Upon reconstitution into phospholipid vesicles, purified Pgp exhibited specific binding to analogues of substrates and ATP in affinity labeling experiments and displayed a high level of drug-stimulated ATPase activity (specific activity ranging from 4.5 to 6.5 micromol min-1 mg-1). The ATPase activity was inhibited by ADP in a competitive manner, and by vanadate and N-ethylmaleimide at low concentrations. Vanadate which is known to inhibit ATPase activity by trapping MgADP at the catalytic site inhibited photoaffinity labeling of Pgp with substrate analogues, [125I]iodoarylazidoprazosin and [3H]azidopine, only under ATP hydrolysis conditions. Because vanadate-trapped Pgp is known to resemble the ADP and phosphate-bound catalytic transition state, our findings indicate that ATP hydrolysis results in a conformation with reduced affinity for substrates. A catalytic transition conformation with reduced affinity would essentially result in substrate dissociation and supports a model for drug transport in which an ATP hydrolysis-induced conformational change leads to drug release toward the extracellular medium.