Apical membrane Na/H exchange is a principal mechanism of renal proximal tubule Na absorption and H secretion, and thick ascending limb H secretion. Based on current data on Na/H exchanger isoforms (NHE-1 to 5), NHE-3 is the likeliest candidate for the apical membrane isoform. The present study localizes NHE-3 in rat kidney using polyclonal antisera against cytoplasmic epitopes of rat NHE-3. These antisera recognized an ~87 kD protein in Na/H exchanger-deficient cells transfected with the rat NHE-3 gene but not in mock-transfected cells. All antisera labeled an ~87 kD protein in plasma membranes from cortex and outer medulla. Fractionation of cortical membranes showed labeling in apical but not basolateral membranes. Cross linking studies suggested existence of oligomeric forms of the transporter. Immunohistochemistry showed strong staining of the apical membrane of S1 convoluted, and S2 convoluted tubule with lesser staining of the S2 straight tubule and absent staining of S3. Weak staining was observed in thin descending limbs in the inner stripe and intense staining was seen in the apical membrane of medullary and cortical thick ascending limbs. NHE-3 staining was absent in the remainder of the nephron. In summary, NHE-3 is the isoform responsible for NaCl and NaHCO3 absorption in the proximal convoluted tubule, and NaHCO3 absorption in the thick ascending limb. In the S3 proximal tubule and the distal convoluted tubule, apical membrane Na/H exchange activity is likely mediated by other isoform(s) of the NHE family.
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