The functional characteristics of human proton coupled folate transporter (hPCFT)/heme carrier protein (HCP) 1 were investigated. hPCFT/HCP1 expressed transiently in human embryonic kidney 293 cells mediated the transport of folate at an acidic extracellular pH of 5.5 in a manner independent of Na(+) and insensitive to membrane potential, but its transport activity was absent at near-neutral pH. Folate transport mediated by hPCFT/hHCP1 at pH 5.5 was saturable with a K(m) of 1.67 microM and extensively inhibited by reduced folates, such as folinate, 5-methyltetrahydrofolate, and methotrexate (MTX). Sulfobro-mophthalein and 4,4'-diisothiocyanostilbene-2,2'-disulfonic acid were also found to be potent inhibitors of hPCFT/hHCP1, but hemin was found to exhibit only minimal inhibitory effect. When expressed stably as a protein fused with green fluorescent protein (GFP-hPCFT/HCP1) in MDCKII cells, GFP-hPCFT/HCP1 was mainly localized at the apical membrane, and the cellular accumulation of MTX was higher from the apical side than from the basal side. These functional features of hPCFT/HCP1 are consistent with those of the well characterized carrier-mediated folate transport system in the small intestine, suggesting that hPCFT/HCP1 is responsible for the intestinal absorption of folate and also MTX. We also found that sulfasalazine is a potent inhibitor of hPCFT/HCP1, which would interfere with the intestinal absorption of MTX when coadministered in therapy for rheumatoid arthritis as well as folate.