The absorption of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) from the rumen requires efficient mechanisms for both apical uptake and basolateral extrusion. Previous studies suggest that the rumen expresses a basolateral chloride conductance that might be permeable to SCFA. In order to characterize this conductance in more detail, isolated cultured ruminal epithelial cells were studied with the patch-clamp technique, revealing a whole-cell conductance with p(Cl(-)) approximately p(NO(3) (-)) > p(HCO(3) (-)) > p(acetate(-)) > p(gluconate(-)). Currents could be blocked by diisothiocyanato-stilbene-2,2'-disulfonic acid (1 mmol l(-1) > 100 micromol l(-1)), 5-nitro-2-(3-phenylpropyl-amino)benzoic acid (50 micromol l(-1)), niflumic acid (100 micromol l(-1)), and p-chloromercuribenzoate (1 mmol l(-1)). Single-channel conductance was 350 +/- 7 pS for chloride and 142 +/- 7 pS for acetate. Open probability could be fitted with a three-state gating model. We propose a role for this channel in mediating the permeation of chloride, bicarbonate, and acetate across the basolateral membrane of the ruminal epithelium.