Cellular impalements were used in combination with standard transepithelial electrical measurements to evaluate some of the determinants of the spontaneous lumen-positive voltage, Ve, which attends net Cl- absorption, JnetCl, and to assess how ADH might augment both JnetCl and Ve in the mouse medullary thick ascending limb of Henle microperfused in vitro. Substituting luminal 5 mM Ba++ for 5 mM K+ resulted in a tenfold increase in the apical-to-basal membrane resistance ratio, Ra/Rbl, and increasing luminal K+ from 5 to 50 mM in the presence of luminal 10(-4)M furosemide resulted in a 53-mV depolarization of apical membrane voltage, Va. Thus K+ accounted for at least 85% of apical membrane conductance. Either with or without ADH, 10(-4) M luminal furosemide reduced Ve and JnetCl to near zero values and hyperpolarized both Va and Vbl, the voltage across basolateral membranes; however, the depolarization of Vbl was greater in the presence than in the absence of hormone while the hormone had no significant effect on the depolarization of Va. Thus ADH-dependent increases in Ve were referable to greater depolarizations of Vbl in the presence of ADH than in the absence of ADH. 68% of the furosemide-induced hyperpolarization of Va was referable to a decrease in the K+ current across apical membranes, but, at a minimum, only 19% of the hyperpolarization of Vbl could be accounted for by a furosemide-induced reduction in basolateral membrane Cl- current. Thus an increase in intracellular Cl- activity may have contributed to the depolarization of Vbl during net Cl- absorption, and the intracellular Cl- activity was likely greater with ADH than without hormone. Since ADH increases apical K+ conductance and since the chemical driving force for electroneutral Na+, K+, 2Cl- cotransport from lumen to cell may have been less in the presence of ADH than in the absence of hormone, the cardinal effects of ADH may have been to increase the functional number of both Ba++-sensitive conductance K+ channels and electroneutral Na+, K+, 2Cl- cotransport units in apical plasma membranes.