Intralobular (granular) salivary ducts were purified by isopycnic centrifugation after collagenase/hyaluronidase digestion of the rat submandibular gland. The resulting ductal fraction (density, 1.056 +/- 0.003) was highly enriched in kallikrein (a ductal cell marker) and contained little amylase activity (an acinar cell marker). The resting intracellular calcium level in the ductal preparation was 103 +/- 4 nM. Increased intracellular calcium concentrations (2-3 times resting levels) were observed in response to muscarinic (carbachol) and alpha-adrenergic (epinephrine) agonists, but little response was observed to substance P, suggesting the absence of substance P peptidergic receptors on rat submandibular ducts. Intracellular adenosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate levels were increased 35-fold in response to beta-adrenergic stimulation (isoproterenol) and forskolin. The ducts secreted kallikrein in response to epinephrine, carbachol, and isoproterenol but not in response to substance P. Epinephrine was the most potent inducer of kallikrein release with a K0.5 of approximately 3 microM and a maximal secretory rate approximately nine times unstimulated levels. Taken together, these results provide strong evidence for the functional integrity of the ductal preparation. This preparation should prove useful for the further elucidation of the properties of intralobular salivary ducts structures which heretofore have only been studied indirectly.