Recent studies suggest the presence of two populations of intercalated cells in the rabbit cortical collecting duct (CCD), one involved with hydrogen ion secretion and another that may play a role in bicarbonate secretion. The purpose of this study was to determine whether two populations of intercalated cells are present in the rat CCD and to establish their response to acute respiratory acidosis. Rats were studied during normal acid-base conditions and after 4-5 h of respiratory acidosis. In all animals light microscopy and transmission and scanning electron microscopy revealed two configurations of intercalated cells, type A with an extensive apical tubulovesicular membrane compartment and prominent surface microprojections and type B with a well-developed vesicular compartment and short sparse surface microprojections. By transmission electron microscopy, studs were present on the cytoplasmic face of the apical plasmalemma and tubulovesicular profiles of A cells. In respiratory acidosis there was a striking increase in apical microprojections and in the surface density of the apical membrane of type A cells similar to the response observed previously in intercalated cells in the outer medullary collecting duct (OMCD) studied under the same physiological conditions. No changes were observed in type B cells. Scanning electron microscopy revealed no change in the relative number of type A and type B cells in respiratory acidosis. We conclude that two distinct populations of intercalated cells exist in the rat CCD: type A, which resembles the intercalated cells in the OMCD, and type B. The response of type A cells to acute respiratory acidosis and the similarity between these cells and intercalated cells in the OMCD, which are believed to secrete hydrogen ion, suggest that the type A cells are involved in hydrogen ion secretion in the CCD.