Epithelial sodium channel (ENaC) subunit (alpha, beta, and gamma) mRNA and protein have been localized to the principal cells of the connecting tubule (CNT), cortical collecting duct (CCD), and outer medullary collecting duct (OMCD) in rat kidney. However, the subcellular localization of ENaC subunits in the principal cells of these cells is undefined. The cellular and subcellular localization of ENaC subunits in rat kidney was therefore examined. Immunocytochemistry demonstrated the presence of all three subunits in principal cells of the CNT, CCD, OMCD, and IMCD. In cortex and outer medulla, confocal microscopy demonstrated a difference in the subcellular localization of subunits. alpha-ENaC was localized mainly in a zone in the apical domains, whereas beta- and gamma-ENaC were found throughout the cytoplasm. Immunoelectron microscopy confirmed the presence of ENaC subunits in both the apical plasma membrane and intracellular vesicles. In contrast to the labeling pattern seen in cortex, alpha-ENaC labeling in IMCD cells was distributed throughout the cytoplasm. In the urothelium covering pelvis, ureters, and bladder, immunoperoxidase and confocal microscopy revealed differences the presence of all ENaC subunits. As seen in CCD, alpha-ENaC was present in a narrow zone near the apical plasma membrane, whereas beta- and gamma-ENaC were dispersed throughout the cytoplasm. In conclusion, all three subunits of ENaC are expressed throughout the collecting duct (CD), including the IMCD as well as in the urothelium. The intracellular vesicular pool in CD principal cells suggests ENaC trafficking as a potential mechanism for the regulation of Na(+) reabsorption.