The lateral intercellular spaces (LIS) are believed to be the final common pathway for fluid reabsorption from the renal proximal tubule. We postulate that electrogenic sodium pumps in the lateral membranes produce an electrical potential within the LIS, that the lateral membranes bear a net negative charge, and that fluid moves parallel to these membranes because of Helmholtz-type electro-osmosis, the field-induced movement of fluid adjacent to a charged surface. Our theoretical analysis indicates that the sodium pumps produce a longitudinal electric field of the order of 1 V/cm in the LIS. Our experimental measurements demonstrate that the electrophoretic mobility of rat renal basolateral membrane vesicles is 1 micron/s per V/cm, which is also the electro-osmotic fluid velocity in the LIS produced by a unit electric field. Thus, the fluid velocity in the LIS due to electro-osmosis should be of the order of 1 micron/s, which is sufficient to account for the observed reabsorption of fluid from renal proximal tubules. Several experimentally testable predictions emerge from our model. First, the pressure in the LIS need not increase when fluid is transported. Thus, the LIS of mammalian proximal tubules need not swell during fluid transport, a prediction consistent with the observations of Burg and Grantham (1971, Membranes and Ion Transport, pp. 49-77). Second, the reabsorption of fluid is predicted to cease when the lumen is clamped to a negative voltage. Our analysis predicts that a voltage of -15 mV will cause fluid to be secreted into the Necturus proximal tubule, a prediction consistent with the observations of Spring and Paganelli (1972, J. Gen. Physiol., 60:181).

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