The goal of this study was to determine the magnitude of "facilitated" amino acid transport across tumor and brain capillaries and to evaluate whether amino acid transporter expression is "upregulated" in tumor vessels compared to capillaries in contralateral brain tissue. Aminocyclopentane carboxylic acid (ACPC), a non-metabolized [14C]-labeled amino acid, and a reference molecule for passive vascular permeability, [67Ga]-gallium-diethylenetriaminepentaacetic acid (Ga-DTPA), were used in these studies. Two experimental rat gliomas were studied (C6 and RG2). Brain tissue was rapidly processed for double label quantitative autoradiography 10 minutes after intravenous injection of ACPC and Ga-DTPA. Parametric images of blood-to-brain transport (K1ACPC and K1Ga-DTPA, microL/min/g) produced from the autoradiograms and the histology were obtained from the same tissue section. These three images were registered in an image array processor; regions of interest in tumor and contralateral brain were defined on morphologic criteria (histology) and were transferred to the autoradiographic images to obtain mean values. The facilitated component of ACPC transport (deltaK1ACPC) was calculated from the K1ACPC and K1Ga-DTPA data, and paired comparisons between tumor and contralateral brain were performed. ACPC flux, K1ACPC, across normal brain capillaries (22.6 +/- 8.1 microL/g/min) was >200-fold greater than that of Ga-DTPA (0.09 +/- 0.04 microL/g/min), and this difference was largely (approximately 90%) due to facilitated ACPC transport. Substantially higher K1ACPC values compared to corresponding K1DTPA values were also measured in C6 and RG2 gliomas. The deltaK1ACPC values for C6 glioma were more than twice that of contralateral brain cortex. K1ACPC and deltaK1ACPC values for RG2 gliomas was not significantly higher than that of contralateral cortex, although a approximately 2-fold difference in facilitated transport is obtained after normalization for differences in capillary surface area between RG2 tumors and contralateral cortex. K1ACPC, deltaK1ACPC, and K DTPA were directly related to tumor cell density, were higher in regions of "impending" necrosis, and the tumor/contralateral brain ACPC radio-activity ratios (0 to 10 minutes) were very similar to that obtained with 0 to 60 minutes experiments. These results indicate that facilitated transport of ACPC is upregulated across C6 and RG2 glioma capillaries, and that tumors can induce upregulation of amino acid transporter expression in their supporting vasculature. They also suggest that early imaging (e.g., 0 to 20 minutes) with radiolabeled amino acids in a clinical setting may be optimal for defining brain tumors.