The localization of Na+-pump sites (Na+-K+-ATPase) in the frog skin epithelium was determined by a freeze-dry radioautographic method for identifying [3H]ouabain-binding sites. Ventral pelvic skins of Rana catesbeiana were mounted in Ussing chambers and exposed to 10(-6) M [3H]ouabain for 120 min, washed in ouabain-free Ringer's solution for 60 min, and then processed for radioautography. Ouabain-binding sites were localized on the inward facing (serosal) membranes of all the living cells. Quantitative analysis of grain distribution showed that the overwhelming majority of Na+-pump sites were localized deep to the outer living cell layer, i.e., in the stratum spinosum and stratum germinativum. Binding of ouabain was correlated with inhibition of Na+ transport. Specificity of ouabain binding to Na+-K+-ATPase was verified by demonstrating its sensitivity to the concentration of ligands (K+, ATP) that affect binding of ouabain to the enzyme. Additional studies supported the conclusion that the distribution of bound ouabain reflects the distribution of those pumps involved in the active transepithelial transport of Na+. After a 30-min exposure to [3H]ouabain, Na+ transport declined to a level that was significantly less than that in untreated paired controls, and analysis of grain distribution showed that over 90% of the ouabain-binding sites were localized to the inner cell layers. Furthermore, in skins where Na+ transport had been completely inhibited by exposure to 10(-5) M ouabain, the grain distribution was identical to that in skins exposed to 10(-6) M. The results support a model which depicts all the living cell layers functioning as a syncytium with regard to the active transepithelial transport of Na+.

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