A photoreactive sphingolipid precursor was used to investigate the potential involvement of protein-lipid interactions that may convey specificity to sphingolipid transport in the human hepatoma cell line, HepG2. A 125I-labeled, photoreactive ceramide, 125I-N3 -Cer, was incubated with the cells and became incorporated into two sphingolipid products. The major product was photoreactive sphingomyelin (125I-N3 -SM) (25% of total radioactivity), while only minor amounts of photoreactive glucosylceramide (125I-N3 -GlcCer) were formed (<2%). After photoactivation, a restricted number of proteins was labeled. Given the absolute amounts of the newly synthesized, photoreactive lipids and their precursor present in the cells, labeling of the proteins can be assumed to be derived from interaction with either ceramide (Cer) or sphingomyelin (SM), or both. To discriminate between these possibilities, photoactivation and protein analysis was performed in cells treated with D-threo-1-phenyl-2-decanoyl amino-3-morpholino-1-propanol (PDMP), an inhibitor of sphingolipid biosynthesis. In treated cells, the radioactive SM pool was reduced by ≈80% Concomitantly, labeling of a 60-kd protein, seen in control cells, decreased. Furthermore, the 60-kd protein is membrane-associated and insoluble in detergent at low temperature. Moreover, when cells containing photoreactive sphingolipids after a preincubation with the photoreactive Cer were photoactivated and subsequently incubated with fluorescent sphingolipid analogs, transport of the latter to the bile canalicular membrane, as observed in control cells, was inhibited. Taken together, the data suggest that distinct proteins, among them a 60-kd protein, may play a specific and functional role in sphingolipid transport to the bile canalicular membrane.