Epithelial Na channels were investigated using patch-clamp techniques in connecting tubule (CNT) segments isolated from rat kidney. Cell-attached patches with Li+ in the patch pipette contained channels with conductances for inward currents of 13-16 pS and slow opening and closing kinetics, similar to properties of Na channels in the cortical collecting tubule (CCT). Macroscopic amiloride-sensitive currents (INa) were also observed under whole cell clamp conditions. These currents were undetectable in cells from control rats but were large when the animals were infused with aldosterone (1,380+/-340 pA/cell at a holding potential of -100 mV) or fed a high-K diet (670+/-260 pA/cell) for 1 wk. Under both of these conditions, currents in cells of the CNT were two- to fourfold larger than currents in cells of the CCT of the same animals. In aldosterone-treated animals, currents in cells of the initial collecting tubule (iCT) were intermediate, such that the relative magnitude of INa was as follows: CNT > iCT > CCT. Quantitative analysis of the results suggests that the maximal capacity of the aggregate population of CNTs to reabsorb Na could be as high as 18 micromol/min, or approximately 10% of the filtered load of Na. This capacity is approximately 10 times higher than that of the CCT.