Stripped segments of proximal colon (1-6 cm distal to the ampulla caecalis coli) were studied in vitro in Ussing chambers under short-circuit conditions using the pH-stat technique. With glucose and HCO3-CO2 present in the serosal bathing solution only, proximal colon alkalinizes the luminal bathing solution at a rate of 2.1 +/- 0.2 mu eq X h-1 X cm-2 (n = 36). With HCO3-CO2 present in the luminal bathing solution alone, proximal colon does not significantly acidify or alkalinize the serosal bathing solution. Addition of glucose (10 mM) to the luminal bathing solution abolished luminal alkalinization. Removal of HCO3 and CO2 from the serosal bathing solution or replacement of O2 with N2 also abolished luminal alkalinization. Acetazolamide (0.1 mM) added to both bathing solutions did not alter the rate of luminal alkalinization. Ion-replacement studies revealed that the alkalinization process was highly dependent on the presence of Na in the bathing solutions and much less dependent on the presence of Cl. Furthermore, ouabain (0.1 mM) significantly reduced luminal alkalinization. As in rabbit ileum, serosal epinephrine (0.1 mM) did not alter luminal alkalinization but increased serosal alkalinization by a Na-dependent mechanism. These results suggest that luminal alkalinization results from a Na-dependent, active transcellular HCO3 transport process and that a Na-dependent HCO3 absorptive process is activated by adrenergic stimuli.