The renal handling of bicarbonate during acute metabolic alkalosis was examined in Munich-Wistar rats using micropuncture techniques. Group I received an acute bicarbonate load, and fractional delivery of total CO2 (tCO2) (FDtCO2) to the superficial late distal tubule (LD) was significantly lower than to the base of the papillary collecting duct (B) (18.4 +/- 1.7 vs. 22.9 +/- 1.5%; P less than 0.01), indicating net addition of bicarbonate between LD and B. When acutely bicarbonate-loaded rats had their deep nephrons destroyed with bromoethylamine hydrobromide (BEA) (group II), net addition of tCO2 between LD and B was abolished and net reabsorption uncovered (FDtCO2 LD: 28.0 +/- 3.6 vs. B: 17.5 +/- 2.5%; P less than 0.01). The infusion of amiloride (2.5 mg/kg body wt) to alkalotic rats treated with BEA (group III) completely inhibited distal bicarbonate reabsorption but did not reestablish addition (FDtCO2 LD: 27.6 +/- 1.6 vs. B: 26.1 +/- 3.7%; P = NS). The values obtained for sham-operated animals (group IV) were the same for group I. The patterns that were observed between LD and B were reproduced for the four groups of animals when FDtCO2 LD was compared with the fractional excretion of bicarbonate in the urine of the intact contralateral kidney. These studies suggest that juxtamedullary nephrons contribute a higher load of bicarbonate than superficial nephrons to the final urine during acute metabolic alkalosis in the rat.