The serum protein hemopexin is considered to have a major role in the mechanism of the uptake of heme by hepatocytes by means of a heme-hemopexin receptor. Therefore, we examined in primary cultures of adult rat and embryonic chick hepatocytes whether the presence of hemopexin would affect the heme-mediated repression of 5-aminolevulinate synthase activity (the rate-limiting enzyme of heme biosynthesis) and the heme-induced increase of heme oxygenase activity (the rate-limiting step of heme degradation). Both of these heme-mediated effects were partly or entirely prevented by the presence of hemopexin. We conclude that homologous hemopexin, at molar concentrations exceeding that of heme, inhibited the uptake of heme into hepatocytes. These results suggest that heme, in amounts sufficient to affect the ratelimiting steps of heme synthesis and degradation, can only enter hepatocytes in primary culture when the binding capacity of hemopexin for heme has been exceeded or altered. (HEPATOLOGY 1994;20:741–746).