Vertebrate oxyntic cells, responsible for gastric HCl production, undergo a remarkable morphological reorganization in relation to their secretory cycle. In resting state, the luminal surface of the cells is smooth; a peculiar system of endocellular membranes, the tubular system, occupies the luminal cytoplasm. Actin filaments frame a cortical network between the tubular system and the luminal plasma membrane. With the onset of HCl secretion, the tubular system becomes incorporated into the luminal plasma membrane. Villous processes containing microfilaments fill the secretory surface. This morphological reorganization of membranes and cytoskeletal matrix could regulate HCl secretion by translocation of membranes containing the proton pump from the endocellular compartment to the secretory surface. In this paper, we describe the isolation of membranes that selectively belong to the tubular system or to the cytoplasmic processes of the secretory surface of chicken oxyntic cells. Chicken oxyntic cells are the main cellular component of the proventricular glands. A resting state was obtained after cimetidine treatment, whereas the HCl-secretory state was induced by histamine. We present a comparative analysis of resting and stimulated chicken gastric glands by quantitative subcellular fractionation. The HCl secretory state was related to specific modifications in membrane fractions derived from the secretory pole of oxyntic cells. Morphological and functional reorganization of oxyntic cells was closely correlated with changes in: the sedimentation pattern of the marker enzyme of the apical pole membrane (K-NPPase), the total activity of K-NPPase and nonmitochondrial Mg-ATPase, the valinomycin dependence of K-ATPase, and polypeptides that cosediment in purified membrane fractions. Changes in the distribution pattern of K-NPPase after fractionation of histamine-stimulated glands were consistent with the replacement of the small vesicles typical of resting glands by dense membrane profiles, analogous to the luminal processes of stimulated oxyntic cells. SDS-PAGE showed that, in purified membrane fractions of stimulated glands, the concentration of 28-, 43-, and 200-kD polypeptides increased while that of 95- and 250-kD polypeptides decreased. The present results define the tubular system of oxyntic cells as an organelle with properties different from those of endoplasmic reticulum, mitochondria, and plasma membrane. The biochemical and physico-chemical properties of this membraneous system changed when the organization of the membranes and the cytoskeletal matrix of the apical pole was modified by the onset of HCl secretion.