Trivalent radiometal tracers have been used for tumour imaging and metastatic pain palliation. For better understanding their tumour accumulation, basic model studies of uptake of different169Yb complexes into cultured normal and tumour cells were performed.Whereas the uptake of169Yb citrate is strongly dependent on the metabolic activity and is not tumour-cell specific, the uptake of169Yb complexed with aminocarbonic acids (NTA, EDTA, DTPA) does not correlate to the metabolic activities. These complexes are taken up to a greater amount by the tumour cells (by a factor of about 2).Uptake of both complex types leads to a stable association to cellular compounds,169Yb is not releasable by the strong complexing agent DTPA.Protein binding of the169Yb complexes shows great influence on their cellular uptake. The bound proportion is no more available for cellular uptake.The results indicate that i) uptake of169Yb citrate is an active cellular transport process which is not tumour-specific, ii) the169Yb aminocarbonic acid complexes show a weak favouring by the tumour cells, iii) different from earlier acceptions the Yb complexes studied are not taken up by the cells in protein-bound form. The structure of the Yb complex is decisive for its protein binding and cellular uptake.