The mechanism by which active solute transport causes water transport in isotonic proportions across epithelial membranes has been investigated. The principle of the experiments was to measure the osmolarity of the transported fluid when the osmolarity of the bathing solution was varied over an eightfold range by varying the NaCl concentration or by adding impermeant non-electrolytes. An in vitro preparation of rabbit gall bladder was suspended in moist oxygen without an outer bathing solution, and the pure transported fluid was collected as it dripped off the serosal surface. Under all conditions the transported fluid was found to approximate an NaCl solution isotonic to whatever bathing solution used. This finding means that the mechanism of isotonic water transport in the gall bladder is neither the double membrane effect nor co-diffusion but rather local osmosis. In other words, active NaCl transport maintains a locally high concentration of solute in some restricted space in the vicinity of the cell membrane, and water follows NaCl in response to this local osmotic gradient. An equation has been derived enabling one to calculate whether the passive water permeability of an organ is high enough to account for complete osmotic equilibration of actively transported solute. By application of this equation, water transport associated with active NaCl transport in the gall bladder cannot go through the channels for water flow under passive conditions, since these channels are grossly too impermeable. Furthermore, solute-linked water transport fails to produce the streaming potentials expected for water flow through these passive channels. Hence solute-linked water transport does not occur in the passive channels but instead involves special structures in the cell membrane, which remain to be identified.

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