Purified Rickettsia prowazekii cells were able to transport L-proline. The influx of this amino acid had a Kt of 14 microM and a Vmax of about 64 pmol/min per mg of protein. Proline could not be transported by heat-killed or metabolically poisoned rickettsiae or at 0 degrees C. The uptake of proline was linear for almost 2 h. More than 90% of the accumulated intracellular radioactivity was proline. This intracellular pool could not be chased out of the cell by excess non-radioactive proline and did not exit into a proline-free medium. These results indicate that intracellular proline was bound or that the cell had a very limited efflux component for proline transport. The influx of proline was specific: among various analogs tested, only 3,4-dehydro-D,L-proline was effective in inhibiting proline uptake. R. prowazekii cells were unable to utilize proline as an energy source to drive hemolysis, and no measurable evolution from the rickettsiae of CO2 derived from proline occurred. The activities of the enzymes pyrroline-5-carboxylate-reductase and pyrroline-5-carboxylate dehydrogenase were not detectable. These enzymes are important in anabolism and catabolism of proline, respectively, and, if present in R. prowazekii have activities less than 1% of those in Escherichia coli.