The capacity of the human esophagus to secrete bicarbonate was studied in vivo in 10 healthy subjects. A 10-cm segment of the lower esophagus was isolated between two balloons, and the segment was perfused with an unbuffered isotonic saline solution (pH 7) for 30 minutes. The perfusate was collected, pooled, and analyzed for bicarbonate using a sensitive back-titration method. Measurements of aspirate amylase and salivary amylase and bicarbonate permitted correction of perfusate bicarbonate values for contamination by swallowed saliva. The esophagus of all 10 subjects were found to secrete bicarbonate in amounts ranging from 10 to 274 microEq/30 min (average, 78 microEq/30 min); based on in vitro studies, these amounts of bicarbonate were shown to be capable of neutralizing enough residual acid from an episode of reflux to increase pH from 2.5 almost to neutrality (pH 6-7). These findings document the presence within the human esophagus of an additional mechanism for defense against (acid) reflux damage, namely, through enhanced luminal acid clearance by the secretion of bicarbonate ions.