The successful acclimation of eurhyhaline fishes from seawater to freshwater requires the gills to stop actively secreting ions and start actively absorbing ions. Gill Na(+),K(+)-ATPase is known to be an integral part of the active ion secretion model of marine fishes, but its importance in the active ion uptake model of freshwater fishes is less clear. This study, conducted in the high Arctic, examines gill Na(+),K(+)-ATPase regulation in wild anadromous arctic char returning to freshwater from the ocean. Gill Na(+),K(+)-ATPase activity, protein expression, and mRNA expression of Na(+),K(+)-ATPase isoforms alpha 1a and alpha 1b were monitored in arctic char at three points along their migration route to and from Somerset Island, Nunavut, Canada: out at sea (Whaler's Point), in seawater near the river mouth (Nat's Camp), and after entering the Union River. Arctic char collected from the Union River had more than twofold greater gill Na(+),K(+)-ATPase activity. This was associated with a significant increase (threefold) in Na(+),K(+)-ATPase isoform alpha 1a mRNA expression and a significant increase in plasma sodium and osmolality levels compared with seawater char. Compared with char sampled from Whaler's Point, Na(+),K(+)-ATPase isoform alpha 1b mRNA expression was decreased by approximately 50% in char sampled at Nat's Camp and the Union River. These results suggest that the upregulation of gill Na(+),K(+)-ATPase activity is involved in freshwater acclimation of arctic char and implicate a role for Na(+),K(+)-ATPase isoform alpha 1a in this process. In addition, we discuss evidence that arctic char go through a preparatory phase, or "reverse smoltification," before entering freshwater.