Dietary acid or alkali loading was given to rats by providing 150 mM NH4Cl or 150 mM NaHCO3 in place of drinking water for 6 days; control animals received 150 mM NaCl. After 6 days, the citrate clearance was 0.04 +/- 0.01 ml/min (mean +/- SE) in the acid-loaded group, 0.9 +/- 0.1 ml/min in the control group, and 2.5 +/- 0.2 ml/min in the alkali-loaded group. At the end of the experiment, the rats were killed, and the Na+ gradient-dependent (Nao+ greater than Nai+) citrate uptake (pmol/mg protein) was measured in brush border membrane (BBM) vesicles prepared from each group. At 0.3 min, the [14C]citrate uptake was 198 +/- 8 pmol/mg protein (mean +/- SE) in the acid-loaded group, 94 +/- 16 pmol/mg protein in the control group, and 94 +/- 13 pmol/mg protein in the alkali-loaded group. The rate of Na+-independent (NaCl in medium replaced by KCl) [14C]-citrate uptake by BBM vesicles was the same for acid-loaded, control, and alkali-loaded animals. Thus, the increased capacity of the proximal tubular BBM to transport citrate from the tubular lumen into the cell interior may be an important factor that contributes to decreased urinary citrate in the presence of metabolic acidosis induced by chronic dietary acid loading.