Ammonium has previously been found to inhibit transport in a number of tissues. The present experiments were designed to evaluate the effect of ammonium chloride on transepithelial voltage (VTE) and cation transport in the isolated rabbit cortical collecting tubule perfused in vitro. Peritubular NH4Cl (2-10 mM) inhibited VTE in these tubules independent of bath or lumen pH. Luminal NH4Cl had a similar effect. However, VTE did not change with bath NH4Cl in tubules treated with amiloride or ouabain. Furthermore, when bath PCO2 was lowered simultaneously with the addition of NH4Cl to the bath, little change in VTE occurred, raising the possibility that intracellular pH falls after addition of NH4Cl to the bath. Consistent with the voltage effects, 5 mM NH4Cl in the bathing solution inhibited net sodium reabsorption by 36% and potassium secretion by 44%. Unidirectional lumen-to-bath tracer fluxes were consistent with predominant inhibition of the sodium reabsorptive flux and the potassium secretory flux. These findings may have relevance to metabolic acidosis in vivo because ionic ammonium concentrations attain the levels used in this study.