Apparent streaming potentials were elicited across Necturus gallbladder epithelium by addition or removal of sucrose from the apical bathing solution. In NaCl Ringer's solution, the transepithelial voltage (Vms) change (reference, basolateral solution) was positive with sucrose addition and negative with sucrose removal. Bilateral Cl- removal (cyclamate replacement) had no effect on the polarity or magnitude of the Vms change elicited by addition of 100 mM sucrose. In contrast, bilateral Na+ removal (tetramethylammonium [TMA+] replacement) inverted the Vms change (from 2.7 +/- 0.3 to -3.2 +/- 0.2 mV). Replacement of Na+ and Cl- with TMA+ and cyclamate, respectively, abolished the change in Vms. Measurements of cell membrane voltages and relative resistances during osmotic challenges indicate that changes in cell membrane parameters do not explain the transepithelial voltage changes. The initial changes in Vms were slower than expected from concomitant estimates of the time course of sucrose concentration (and hence osmolality) at the membrane surface. Paired recordings of the time courses of paracellular bi-ionic potentials (partial substitution of apical Na+ with tetrabutylammonium [TBA+]) revealed much faster time courses than those produced by sucrose addition, although the diffusion coefficients of sucrose and TBACl are similar. Hyperosmotic and hypoosmotic challenges yielded initial Vms changes at the same rate; thereafter, the voltage increased with hypoosmotic solution and decreased with hyperosmotic solution. These late voltage changes appear to result from changes in width of the lateral intercellular spaces. The early time courses of the Vms changes produced by osmotic challenge are inconsistent with the expectations for water-ion flux coupling in the junctions. We propose that they are pseudo-streaming potentials, i.e., junctional diffusion potentials caused by salt concentration changes in the lateral intercellular spaces secondary to osmotic water flow.

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