The mechanism of cholera toxin (CT) internalization has been investigated using Caco-2 cells transfected with caveolin to induce formation of caveolae, HeLa cells with inducible synthesis of mutant dynamin (K44A) and BHK cells in which antisense mRNA to clathrin heavy chain can be induced. Here we show that endocytosis and the ability of CT to increase the level of cAMP were unaltered in caveolin-transfected cells grown either in a non-polarized or polarized manner. Treatment of Caco-2 cells with filipin reduced CT-uptake by less than 20%, suggesting that caveolae do not play a major role in the uptake. Extraction of cholesterol by methyl-beta-cyclodextrin, which removes caveolae and inhibits uptake from clathrin-coated pits, gave 30-40% reduction of CT-endocytosis. Also, CT-uptake in HeLa K44A cells was reduced by 50-70% after induction of mutant dynamin, which inhibits both caveolae- and clathrin-dependent endocytosis. These cells contain few caveolae, and nystatin and filipin had no effect on CT-uptake, indicating major involvement of clathrin-coated pits in CT-internalization. Similarly, in BHK cells, where clathrin-dependent endocytosis is blocked by induction of antisense clathrin heavy chain, the CT-uptake was reduced by 50% in induced cells. In conclusion, a large fraction of CT can be endocytosed by clathrin-dependent as well as by caveolae- and clathrin-independent endocytosis in different cell types.