Substrate oxidation was assessed by measuring 14CO2 production from 14C-labeled substrates in proximal convoluted tubules (PCT), medullary (MTAL), and cortical (CTAL) thick ascending limb of Henle, nephron segments rich in mitochondria and characterized by active solute transport. PCT, MTAL, and CTAL were dissected from the outer cortex, outer medulla, and the medullary rays of the cortex, respectively, of collagenase-treated rat kidney slices. Tubules were incubated at 37 degrees C in 150 microliters of Krebs-Ringer-bicarbonate buffer (pH, 7.4) with 14C-labeled substrate. 14CO2 production was linear up to 4 and 2 hours in PCT and MTAL, respectively. Freeze-thawing of the tubules markedly decreased 14CO2 production, and the addition of cyanide completely abolished it. The PCT demonstrated marked 14CO2 production from labeled succinate, 2-oxoglutarate, glutamate, glutamine, and malate (approximately 10 to 45 pmoles/mm/hr) and moderate 14CO/ production from citrate (approximately 3 pmoles/ml/hr). Little 14CO2 was released from labeled glucose and lactate in PCT. These results are consistent with the existence of gluconeogenesis in this nephron segment. By contrast, MTAL and CTAL oxidized glucose, 2-oxoglutarate, lactate, glutamate, and glutamine, but not malate, succinate, and citrate. The pentose shunt pathway accounted for approximately half of the 14CO2 produced from 1-14C glucose in MTAL and CTAL. Palmitate oxidation occurred in MTAL and CTAL but minimally in PCT. The results demonstrate a distinct pattern of substrate oxidation in PCT, MTAL, and CTAL where oxidative metabolism is critical to support active solute transport.