To determine a renal tubular mechanism for the natriuretic effect of dopamine (DA) and DA-1 agonists, we measured Na(+)-H+ exchange activity (amiloride sensitive) in rat renal cortical brush-border membrane vesicles (BBMV). Renal cortical tissues were preincubated with ligands before BBMV preparation to study Na(+)-H+ exchange activity in the absence of the added ligands that may compete for ion binding sites of the exchanger. DA and DA-1 agonist-inhibited Na(+)-H+ exchange activity was concentration and time dependent. The inhibitory effect was not due to increased permeability, collapse of the proton gradient, or change in vesicle size and did not extend to Na(+)-glucose symport. DA-2 agonists had no effect, whereas alpha-adrenergic agonists increased Na(+)-H+ exchange activity. Kinetic analysis revealed that the DA-1 agonist inhibited Na(+)-H+ exchange activity by a noncompetitive process. 2',5'-Dideoxyadenosine inhibited adenylate cyclase activity and reversed the inhibitory effect of DA-1 agonist on the exchanger. H4, an isoquinoline sulfonamide, which inhibits protein kinase A, also reversed the inhibitory effect of DA-1 agonist on the exchanger. Thus the DA-1 agonist-mediated inhibition of Na(+)-H+ exchange activity in BBMV is a receptor-mediated adenylate cyclase-linked process.