Domes are localized areas of fluid accumulation between a cultured epithelial cell monolayer and the impermeable substratum on which the cells are cultured in vitro. Dome formation has been documented in a variety of epithelial cell lines that retain their transepithelial transport properties in vitro. However, it is not known whether domes are predominantly areas of specific active transport, or, alternatively, are predominantly areas of relative weak attachment to the culture surface. In the present study we adapted a vibrating microelectrode, which can detect small currents flowing in extracellular fluid, to determine if current was flowing into or out of domes and thereby to determine if domes were specialized areas of active transport. We used alveolar type II cells as the main epithelial cell type because they readily form domes in vitro and because they transport sodium from the apical to the basal surface. We found that electrical current flowed out of domes. The direction of the current was independent of the size of a dome, of the age of an individual dome, and of the number of days in primary culture for alveolar epithelial cells. This current was inhibited by amiloride and ouabain and was dependent on sodium in the medium. We made similar observations (outward current from domes which is blocked by amiloride and by sodium substitution) with domes formed by the Madin-Darby canine kidney cell line. The data support the hypothesis that sodium is transported across the entire monolayer and leaks back mainly through the domes. We conclude that domes in epithelial monolayers are not predominantly special sites of active transport but are more likely simply areas of weak attachment to the substratum.

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