Although aldosterone influences a variety of cellular processes through nongenomic mechanisms, the significance of nongenomic pathways for aldosterone-induced regulation of epithelial function is not understood. Recently, we demonstrated that aldosterone inhibits transepithelial HCO(3)(-) absorption in the medullary thick ascending limb (MTAL) through a nongenomic pathway. This inhibition is mediated through a direct cellular action of aldosterone to inhibit the apical membrane NHE3 Na(+)/H(+) exchanger. The present study was designed to identify the intracellular signaling pathway(s) responsible for this aldosterone-induced transport regulation. In rat MTALs perfused in vitro, addition of 1 nM aldosterone to the bath decreased HCO(3)(-) absorption by 30%. This inhibition was not mediated by cAMP/PKA and was not prevented by inhibitors of PKC or PI3-K, pertussis toxin, or rapamycin. The inhibition of HCO(3)(-) absorption by aldosterone was largely eliminated by the MEK/ERK inhibitors U-0126 and PD-98059. Aldosterone increased ERK activity 1.8-fold in microdissected MTALs. This ERK activation is rapid (</=5 min) and is blocked by U-0126 or PD-98059 but is unaffected by spironolactone or actinomycin D. Pretreatment with U-0126 to block ERK activation prevented the effect of aldosterone to inhibit apical NHE3. These data demonstrate that aldosterone inhibits NHE3 and HCO(3)(-) absorption in the MTAL through rapid activation of the ERK signaling pathway. The results identify NHE3 as a target for nongenomic regulation by aldosterone and establish a role for ERK in the acute regulation of NHE3 and its epithelial absorptive functions.