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We have previously shown that the multi-drug resistance protein (MRP) mediates the ATP-dependent membrane transport of glutathione S- conjugates and additional amphiphilic organic anions. In the present study we demonstrate the expression of MRP in hepatocytes where it functions in hepatobiliary excretion. Analysis by reverse transcription- PCR of human and normal rat liver mRNA resulted in two expected cDNA fragments of MRP. Four different antibodies against MRP reacted on immunoblots with the glycoprotein of about 190 kD from human canalicular as well as basolateral hepatocyte membrane preparations. A polyclonal antibody directed against the carboxy-terminal sequence of MRP detected the rat homolog of MRP in liver. Double immunofluorescence microscopy and confocal laser scanning microscopy showed the presence of human MRP and rat Mrp in the canalicular as well as in the lateral membrane domains of hepatocytes. The transport function of the mrp gene- encoded conjugate export pump was assayed in plasma membrane vesicles with leukotriene C4 as a high-affinity glutathione S-conjugate substrate. The deficient ATP-dependent conjugate transport in canalicular membranes from TR- mutant rat hepatocytes was associated with a lack of amplification of one of the mrp cDNA fragments and with a selective loss of Mrp on immunoblots of canalicular membranes. Double immunofluorescence microscopy of livers from transport-deficient TR- mutant rats localized Mrp only to the lateral but not to the canalicular membrane. Our results indicate that the absence of Mrp or an isoform of Mrp from the canalicular membrane is the basis for the hereditary defect of the hepatobiliary excretion of anionic conjugates by the transport-deficient hepatocyte.