The mode of action of carbachol in stimulation of transepithelial Cl- secretion in intact human intestinal T84 epithelial monolayers has been investigated in order to determine whether a DIDS-insensitive exit pathway (via CFTR) coexists with a DIDS-sensitive exit pathway at the apical membrane. Carbachol stimulates a transient inward Isc due to Cl- secretion whose magnitude is related to the basal level of inward Isc. The inward current responses to both carbachol and hypo-osmotic media are abolished in nominally Ca(2+)-free media. The action of apical DIDS (100 microM) upon carbachol-stimulated Isc depends on the initial value of the basal Isc. At basal Isc levels < 10 microA cm-2, 100 microM DIDS applied to the apical cell border abolishes the inward Isc following exposure to both carbachol and hypo-osmotic media. In contrast a VIP-stimulated inward Isc is observed in the presence of 100 microM DIDS. After VIP stimulation of inward Isc, or if spontaneous basal values of Isc were > 10 microA cm-2, the carbachol stimulation of inward Isc was largely insensitive to 100 microM DIDS. The data are consistent with the participation of both DIDS-sensitive and DIDS insensitive pathways for Cl- at the apical membrane of human intestinal T84 epithelial cells.