The effect of iron on the exocytosis of transferrin by K562 cells was studied by first allowing the cells to endocytose apotransferrin or diferric transferrin. Subsequent release of the apotransferrin was very rapid with a t 1/2 of 3.01 min, compared with 5.5 min for diferric transferrin. Release of apotransferrin was slowed by the weak base methylamine, t 1/2 8.0 min, but the effect of this agent was substantially greater when iron-transferrin was used, t 1/2 18.65 min, suggesting that methylamine affects both iron removal and receptor recycling. Release of iron-transferrin could be accelerated to a rate comparable with that of apotransferrin by addition of the permeant iron-chelator desferrioxamine. The difference in the rates of release of different forms of the protein could be explained by the re-endocytosis of the iron-rich protein, a process detected by the accelerated release of transferrin when the cells were washed in medium at pH 5.5 containing an iron-chelator or treated with a protease-containing medium to digest transferrin accessible at the cell surface. It appears that in cells incubated under control conditions, re-endocytosis of transferrin, which is incompletely depleted of iron, occurs and that a transferrin molecule may make two passes through the cell before all the iron is removed. This mechanism helps to explain why very little iron-transferrin is released from cells and why the efficiency of the iron uptake process is so high.