In Pacific spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias), plasma CO(2) reactions have access to plasma carbonic anhydrase (CA) and gill membrane-associated CA. The objectives of this study were to characterise the gill membrane-bound CA and investigate whether extracellular CA contributes significantly to CO(2) excretion in dogfish. A subcellular fraction containing membrane-associated CA activity was isolated from dogfish gills and incubated with phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipase C. This treatment caused significant release of CA activity from its membrane association, a result consistent with identification of the dogfish gill membrane-bound CA as a type IV isozyme. Inhibition constants (K(i)) against acetazolamide and benzolamide were 4.2 and 3.5 nmol L(-1), respectively. Use of a low dose (1.3 mg kg(-1) or 13 micromol L(-1)) of benzolamide to selectively inhibit extracellular CA in vivo caused a significant 30%-60% reduction in the arterial-venous total CO(2) concentration difference, a significant increase in Pco(2) and an acidosis, without affecting blood flow or ventilation. No effect of benzolamide on any measure of CO(2) excretion was detected in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). These results indicate that extracellular CA contributes substantially to CO(2) excretion in the dogfish, an elasmobranch, and confirm that CA is not available to plasma CO(2) reactions in rainbow trout, a teleost.