Previous in vitro studies have demonstrated spontaneous bicarbonate absorption in the outer stripe portion of the rat outer medullary collecting duct (OMCD) and inner medullary collecting duct, but net acid transport has not been studied in the inner stripe of the rat OMCD (OMCDIS). When we perfused isolated OMCDIS segments with identical bath and perfusate solutions containing HCO-3 and NH4Cl, HCO-3 was spontaneously absorbed, and total ammonia was spontaneously secreted at rapid rates in tubules from both deoxycorticosterone (DOC)-treated and untreated rats. We next measured the NH3 flux due to imposed NH3 concentration gradients. Carbonic anhydrase (CA), when added to the lumen, enhanced the NH3 flux, implying an absence of endogenous CA. The NH3 permeability was 0.0042 +/- 0.0007 cm/s. By measuring the luminal pH in perfused OMCDIS segments with an imposed lumen-to-bath NH3 gradient, we determined the pH at the end of the lumen to be 0.23 units below the equilibrium pH calculated from the simultaneously measured total CO2 concentration in collected fluid, confirming the lack of luminal CA. These results are consistent with the view that ammonium secretion in the OMCDIS occurs predominantly by H+ secretion and parallel NH3 diffusion. A luminal disequilibrium pH due to H+ secretion in the absence of endogenous luminal CA enhances the NH3 entry rate. Spontaneous net acid secretion appears to occur more rapidly in the OMCD than in other parts of the rat collecting duct system.