Volume regulation was studied in A6 epithelia grown on permeable supports by measuring cell thickness (Tc) while simultaneously recording short circuit current (ISC) and transepithelial conductance (Gt). Lowering the tonicity of the basolateral solution (pi b) from 250 or 215 to 140 mOsm/kg elicited a rapid rise in Tc followed by a regulation of the cell volume towards control. This decrease in Tc displays the characteristics of the regulatory volume decrease (RVD). Upon restoring the isoosmotic conditions, Tc decreased rapidly below its control value. A post RVD regulatory volume increase (RVI) as described for other cell types was not observed. The subsequent reduction of the basolateral osmolality increased Tc to the level recorded at the end of the first hypoosmotic pulse. Because cell content was not altered during the isoosmotic period the second hypoosmotic challenge was isotonic with the cell and did therefore not evoke an RVD. However, the cell did not lose its ability to volume regulate since an RVD could be elicited by further reduction of pi b from 140 to 100 mOsm/kg. The possibility of an involvement of amino acids in the RVD was tested. The amount of amino acids in the cell as well as excreted in the bath was determined by amino acid analysis. Millimolar concentrations of threonine, serine, alanine, glutamate, glycine and aspartate were found in the cell extract. The cellular amino acid concentration was 28.8 +/- 0.4 mM. The amounts of glycine, aspartate and glutamate excreted from the cell during the hypotonic treatment were significantly larger than in control conditions. The excretion of these amino acids during hypotonicity decreased the cellular amino acid concentration by 8.4 +/- 0.2 mM. This quantity cannot completely account for the RVD during the first hypotonic challenge. The addition of glycine, aspartate and glutamate to the bathing solutions, although used at concentrations higher than intracellularly, did not reduce RVD. On the contrary, this maneuver increased the amplitude of the RVD following both hypoosmotic pulses. This result suggests a stimulatory role of the amino acids on the processes responsible for the RVD.