The localization of aquaporin-1 water channels (AQP-1) in nephron and vascular structures in rat kidney were characterized, because vascular bundles are known to play a key role in urinary concentration. Immunohistochemistry and immunoelectron microscopy were applied on thin cryosections or ultrathin Lowicryl sections, using an optimized freeze-substitution method. Within the vascular bundles, AQP-1 is localized in descending thin limbs (DTL) of short nephrons in apical and basolateral membranes. The expression in DTL of short nephrons is considerably lower compared with the expression in long nephrons, consistent with the known lower osmotic water permeability of this segment. Furthermore, DTL of short nephrons expressing AQP-1 continue abruptly into a thin limb segment without AQP-1. This suggests the existence of a novel thin limb epithelium in the outer medulla. Extensive expression of AQP-1 is observed in apical and basolateral membranes of DTL of long nephrons, which are localized in the periphery of the vascular bundles. The expression decreases along the axis of long nephron DTLs in correlation with the known water permeability characteristics of thin limb segments. DTLs of both short and long nephrons continue abruptly into thin limb segments without AQP-1 expression, revealing an abrupt cell-to-cell transition. In vasa recta, AQP-1 is selectively localized in the nonfenestrated endothelium of descending vasa recta, whereas the fenestrated endothelium of ascending vesa recta and peritubular capillaries do not express AQP-1. AQP-1 is localized in both apical and basolateral plasma membranes, which is logical for transendothelial water transport. Isolated perfused descending vasa recta display high water permeability, and, unlike sodium permeability, diffusional water permeability is partly inhibited by mercurials, thus substantiating the presence of mercurial-sensitive water channels in descending vasa recta. Thus AQP-1 is localized in DTL and descending vasa recta within vascular bundles, and AQP-1 expression in DTL segments is in exact concordance with the known water permeability characteristics, strongly supporting that AQP-1 is the major constitutive water channel of the nephron.