A model was set up to study water transport in membrane proteins expressed in Xenopus oocytes. The model was tested experimentally using human and rabbit Na+-glucose cotransporters (SGLT1), and was used to explain controversies regarding unstirred layer effects. Cotransport of Na+, sugar and water was monitored by two-electrode voltage clamp and online measurements of oocyte volume. The specific resistance of the oocyte cytoplasm was found by means of microelectrodes to be 263 +/- 91 Omega cm (S.D., n = 52), or 2.5 times that of Kulori medium, in agreement with reported values of intracellular ion concentrations and diffusion constants. Osmotically induced volume and resistance changes were compatible with a model of the oocyte in which 37 +/- 17 % (S.D., n = 66) of the intracellular volume acts as a free solution while the remainder is inert, being occupied by organelles, etc. The model explains the results of several types of experiments: rapid changes in rates of water cotransport induced by changes in clamp voltage followed by osmotic equilibration in sugar-free conditions; volume changes induced by Na+ transport via the ionophore gramicidin; and uphill water transport. Ethanol (0.5 %) induced a marked swelling of the oocytes of about 16 pl x s(-1). If the specific inhibitor of SGLT1 phlorizin is added from stock solutions in ethanol, the effect of ethanol obfuscates the effects of the inhibitor. We conclude that the transport parameters derived for water cotransport by the SGLT1 can be attributed to the protein residing in the plasma membrane with no significant influences from unstirred layer effects.