Significance of active ion transport in transalveolar water absorption: a study on isolated rat lung

J Physiol. 1987 Mar;384:311-24. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1987.sp016456.


1. Experiments were performed on isolated rat lungs perfused with Ringer solutions containing red cells. The goal was to clarify the role of active transport of Na+ for the absorption of fluid across the alveolar membrane, and to characterize active and passive pathways. 2. Partially degassed lungs were filled with 5 ml of an isotonic Ringer solution containing 125I-labelled albumin in order to calculate the fluid movement, and 22Na+ or 36Cl- for measurement of ion fluxes. Passive non-electrolyte permeability was determined in all experiments using [3H]mannitol. 3. The average rate of fluid absorption in phosphate-buffered instillates was 134 nl/s (S.E., 18.5; n = 14). With ouabain (10(-4) M) in the perfusate the fluid absorption rate fell to 57 nl/s (S.E., 8.2; n = 18). Amiloride (10(-3)-10(-4) M) in the instillate reduced the absorption to 75 nl/s (S.E., 8.6; n = 16). These results show that fluid absorption depends on transcellular transport of Na+ and that alveolar epithelial cells have a Na+ entry system in the luminal membrane and a Na+-K+ pump in the abluminal membrane. 4. The transcellular ion transport operates in parallel with a paracellular, passive leak that allows mannitol to pass with a permeability surface area product of 1.2 X 10(-4) ml/s, corresponding to a permeability coefficient of 2.4 X 10(-8) cm/s, assuming an alveolar surface area of 5000 cm2. 5. The passive fluxes of Na+ were 9.4 pmol/(cm2s) (S.E., 1.3; n = 25) in the direction from alveoli to perfusate and 8.0 pmol/(cm2s) (S.E., 0.86; n = 6) from perfusate to plasma. The passive fluxes of Cl- in the two directions were not significantly different either. Thus the transalveolar electrical potential difference is too small to affect ion movements measurably. 6. The passive permeability to Na+ was 6.7 X 10(-8) cm/s and to Cl- was 10.2 X 10(-8) cm/s (alveolar surface area assumed to be 5000 cm2). The ratio of the permeabilities is close to the ratio of the diffusion coefficients in free solution, suggesting a neutral or weakly charged paracellular channel. 7. We conclude that the alveolar epithelium performs solute-coupled fluid transport from alveoli to plasma, and that it shows many features that are common to other fluid-transporting epithelia; with an approximate surface area of 100 m2 in humans it constitutes one of the largest epithelial surfaces in the body.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

MeSH terms

  • Absorption
  • Amiloride / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Biological Transport, Active / drug effects
  • Cell Membrane Permeability / drug effects
  • Chlorides / metabolism*
  • Epithelium / metabolism
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Lung / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Ouabain / pharmacology
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Sodium / metabolism*
  • Water / metabolism*


  • Chlorides
  • Water
  • Ouabain
  • Amiloride
  • Sodium