The electrolyte and water content of cellular and interstitial compartments in the renal papilla of the rat was determined by x-ray microanalysis of frozen-hydrated tissue sections. Papillae from rats on ad libitum water were rapidly frozen in a slush of Freon 12, and sectioned in a cryomicrotome at -30 to -40 degrees C. Frozen 0.5-micrometer sections were mounted on carbon-coated nylon film over a Be grid, transferred cold to the scanning microscope, and maintained at -175 degrees C during analysis. The scanning transmission mode was used for imaging. Structural preservation was of good quality and allowed identification of tissue compartments. Tissue mass (solutes + water) was determined by continuum radiation from regions of interest. After drying in the SEM, elemental composition of morphologically defined compartments (solutes) was determined by analysis of specific x-rays, and total dry mass by continuum. Na, K, Cl, and H2O contents in collecting-duct cells (CDC), papillary epithelial cells (PEC), and interstitial cells (IC) and space were measured. Cells had lower water content (mean 58.7%) than interstitium (77.5%). Intracellular K concentrations (millimoles per kilogram wet weight) were unremarkable (79-156 mm/kg wet weight); P was markedly higher in cells than in interstitium. S was the same in all compartments. Intracellular Na levels were extremely high (CDC, 344 +/- 127 SD mm/kg wet weight; PEC, 287 +/- 105; IC, 898 +/- 194). Mean interstitial Na was 590 +/- 119 mm/kg wet weight. CI values paralleled those for Na. If this Na is unbound, then these data suggest that renal papillary interstitial cells adapt to their hyperosmotic environment by a Na-uptake process.

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