The role of megalin in tissue distribution of aminoglycosides was examined in normal rats and maleate-treated rats that shed megalin from the renal brush-border membrane. In normal rats, amikacin administered intravenously accumulated most abundantly in the renal cortex, followed by the renal medulla. No amikacin was detected in other tissues. Tissue distributions of amikacin were well correlated with megalin levels in each tissue. Bolus administration of gentamicin increased urinary excretion of megalin ligands (vitamin D binding protein and calcium), suggesting the competition between gentamicin and these megalin ligands in renal tubules. Ligand blotting showed that binding of (45)Ca(2+) to megalin was inhibited by aminoglycosides. Both megalin levels and amikacin accumulation in renal cortex were decreased by maleate injection. Then, amikacin accumulation recovered proportionate to megalin levels. These findings suggest that megalin is involved in the renal cortical accumulation of aminoglycosides in vivo. In addition, the interaction between aminoglycosides and calcium in the kidney may be due to the competition among these compounds to bind to megalin.