The hydraulic water permeability (Lp) of the cell membranes of Necturus gallbladder epithelial cells was estimated from the rate of change of cell volume after a change in the osmolality of the bathing solution. Cell volume was calculated from computer reconstruction of light microscopic images of epithelial cells obtained by the "optical slice" technique. The tissue was mounted in a miniature Ussing chamber designed to achieve optimal optical properties, rapid bath exchange, and negligible unstirred layer thickness. The control solution contained only 80% of the normal NaCl concentration, the remainder of the osmolality was made up by mannitol, a condition that did not significantly decrease the fluid absorption rate in gallbladder sac preparations. The osmotic gradient ranged from 11.5 to 41 mosmol and was achieved by the addition or removal of mannitol from the perfusion solutions. The Lp of the apical membrane of the cell was 1.0 X 10(-3) cm/s . osmol (Posm = 0.055 cm/s) and that of the basolateral membrane was 2.2 X 10(-3) cm/s . osmol (Posm = 0.12 cm/s). These values were sufficiently high so that normal fluid absorption by Necturus gallbladder could be accomplished by a 2.4-mosmol solute gradient across the apical membrane and a 1.1-mosmol gradient across the basolateral membrane. After the initial cell shrinkage or swelling resulting from the anisotonic mucosal or serosal medium, cell volume returned rapidly toward the control value despite the fact that one bathing solution remained anisotonic. This volume regulatory response was not influenced by serosal ouabain or reduction of bath NaCl concentration to 10 mM. Complete removal of mucosal perfusate NaCl abolished volume regulation after cell shrinkage. Estimates were also made of the reflection coefficient for NaCl and urea at the apical cell membrane and of the velocity of water flow across the cytoplasm.

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