Receptor-mediated uptake and degradation of 125I-asialoorosomucoid (ASOR) in human hepatoma HepG2 cells is inhibited by the lysosomotropic amines chloroquine and primaquine. In the absence of added ligand at 37 degrees C, these amines induce a rapid (t1/2 5.5-6 min) and reversible loss of cell surface 125I-ASOR binding sites as well as a rapid decrease in 125I-ASOR uptake and degradation. There is no effect of these amines on the binding of 125I-ASOR to the cell surface at 4 degrees C or on the rate of internalization of prebound 125I-ASOR. The loss of 125I-ASOR surface binding at 37 degrees C is not attributable to altered affinity of ligand-receptor binding. In the presence of added ligand at 37 degrees C, there is a more rapid (t1/2 2.5-3 min) loss of hepatoma cell surface receptors. In addition, the amines inhibit the rapid return of the internalized receptor to the cell surface. We examined the nature of this loss of 125I-ASOR surface binding sites by following the fate of receptor molecules after biosynthetic labeling and after cell surface iodination. At 37 degrees C, chloroquine and primaquine induce a loss of asialoglycoprotein receptor molecules from the hepatoma cell surface to an internal pool.