We have combined a functional assay, surface labeling and immunocytochemical methods to compare total and surface-exposed renal type IIa Na+/Pi cotransporter protein. The wild-type type cotransporter (NaPi-IIa) and its functionally comparable cysteine mutant S460C were expressed in Xenopus oocytes. S460C contains a novel cysteine residue that, when modified by preincubation with methanethiosulfonate reagents, leads to complete suppression of cotransport function. This allowed surface labeling of the S460C using MTSEA-Biotin and confirmation by electrophysiology on the same cell. Protein was analyzed by Western blotting before and after streptavidin precipitation and by immunocytochemistry and immunogold electronmicroscopy. MTSEA-Biotin treatment resulted in a complete inhibition of S460C-mediated Na+/Pi-cotransport activity, which indicated that all transporters at the surface were biotinylated. After biotinylation, only a small fraction of total S460C protein was precipitated by streptavidin compared with the total amount of S460C protein detected in the lysate. Light- and electron-microscopy analysis of oocytes showed a large amount of WT and S460C transporter protein beneath the oocyte membrane. These data indicate that the apparent weak labeling efficiencies of surface-biotinylation-based assays of membrane proteins heterologously expressed in oocytes can be related to diminished incorporation of the protein in the oolemma.