The water permeability of human red blood cells has been monitored by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) following exposure to inhibitors of various transport processes across their membranes. No significant inhibition of water diffusion could be detected after the treatment of red blood cells with the anion exchange transport inhibitor dihydro-4,4'-diisothiocyano-stilbene-2,2'-disulfonate (H2DIDS) or the glucose transport inhibitors diallyl-diethyl-stilbestrol (DADES), cytochalasin B, or 30 mM iodoacetamide. It is for the first time that the effects of glucose transport inhibitors has been studied in detail by the NMR approach. A special case proved to be phloretin, an inhibitor of anion, nonelectrolyte and glucose permeability. A small but statistically significant inhibition of water permeability (around 12% at 20 degrees C) was induced by exposure to 2 mM phloretin (for 60 min at 37 degrees C); after a pretreatment of cells with 12 mM N-ethylmaleimide (NEM), for 60 min at 37 degrees C, the degree of inhibition induced by phloretin increased (becoming 17% at 20 degrees C). None of the inhibitors prevented or potentiated the strong inhibitory effect on water diffusion of a mercurial, p-chloromercuribenzene sulfonate (PCMBS). No increase in the activation energy of water diffusion occurred by treatment with the reagents used (exception the effect of PCMBS). The present results clarify some conflicting reports concerning the effects on water permeability of inhibitors of various transport processes in red blood cells and indicate that in addition to the drastic inhibition induced by mercurials other reagents may also have inhibitory effects.