Vanadate (sodium orthovanadate) is an insulin-mimetic agent and phosphotyrosine phosphatase inhibitor that has been proposed as a potential therapeutic agent for diabetes. We previously reported that vanadate decreased the number of cell-surface insulin receptors but inhibited receptor degradation in cultured lymphocytes (IM-9) (1). To determine whether vanadate affected receptors without intrinsic tyrosine kinase activity, its effects on LDL and transferrin receptors and their ligands were examined. Vanadate exposure resulted in a doseand time-dependent decrease in LDL binding to cultured human fibroblasts associated with a decrease in cell surface receptor number while total solubilized cell LDL receptors increased. Vanadate also inhibited the LDLmediated downregulation of total cellular LDL receptors in the absence and presence of cycloheximide consistent with an inhibition of LDL receptor degradation. In the case of the ligand, vanadate augmented the accumulation of intact 125I-LDL associated with an inhibition of up to 80% of the ability of LDL to decrease cholesterol synthesis. Since these actions were similar to the effects of lysosomotropic agents, we examined the effect of vanadate on intraendosomal pH using the fluorescent probe acridine orange. In contrast with chloroquine and NH4C1, vanadate did not neutralize the pH of the acidic intracellular compartment. Furthermore, after a transient insulin-like effect, chronic exposure to vanadate diminished 125I-diferric transferrin binding to rat adipocytes. In contrast with the inhibitory action of NH4C1, intracellular 59Fe uptake remained unaffected and was proportional to cell-surface binding capacity in the presence of vanadate. These data demonstrate a chronic effect of vanadate to promote the accumulation of intracellular receptors and to inhibit ligand and receptor degradation. The latter effect is not mediated by pH changes, appears to be localized to a late endosoma/Mysosomal compartment, and suggests a possible role for tyrosine dephosphorylation in the regulation of receptor-ligand degradation.