Confluent M-1 cells show electrogenic Na+ absorption and possess an amiloride-sensitive Na(+)-conductance (Korbmacher et al., J. Gen. Physiol. 102:761-793, 1993). In the present study, we further characterized this conductance and identified the underlying single channels using conventional patch clamp technique. Moreover, we isolated poly(A)+ RNA from M-1 cells to express the channels in Xenopus laevis oocytes, and to check for the presence of transcripts related to the epithelial Na+ channel recently cloned from rat colon (Canessa et al., Nature 361:467-470, 1993). Patch clamp experiments were performed in 6-13-day-old confluent M-1 cells at 37 degrees C. In whole-cell experiments application of 10(-5) M amiloride caused a hyperpolarization of 24.9, SEM +/- 2.2 mV (n = 35) and a reduction of the inward current by 107 +/- 10 pA (n = 51) at a holding potential of -60 mV. Complete removal of bath Na+ had similar effects, indicating that the amiloride-sensitive component of the inward current is a Na+ current. The effect of amiloride was concentration-dependent with half-inhibition at 0.22 microM. The Na+ current saturated with increasing extracellular Na+ concentrations with an apparent Km of 24 mM. Na+ replacement for Li+ demonstrated a higher apical membrane conductance for Li+ than for Na+. In excised inside-out (i/o) or outside-out (o/o) patches from the apical membrane, we observed single-channels which showed slow kinetics and were reversibly inhibited by amiloride. Their average conductance for Na+ was 6.8 +/- 0.5 pS (n = 15) and for Li+ 11.2 +/- 1.0 pS (n = 14). They had no measurable conductance for K+. In o/o patches, channel activity was slightly voltage dependent with an open probability (NPo) of 0.46 +/- 0.14 and 0.16 +/- 0.05 at a holding potential of -100 and 0 mV, respectively (n = 8, P < 0.05). Using the two-microelectrode voltage-clamp technique, we assayed defolliculated stage V-VI Xenopus oocytes for an amiloride-sensitive inward current 1-6 days after injection with H2O or with 20-50 ng of M-1 poly(A)+ RNA. In poly(A)+ RNA-injected oocytes held at -60 or -100 mV application of amiloride (2 microM) reduced the Na-inward current by 25.5 +/- 4.6 nA (n = 25) while it had no effect in H2O-injected oocytes (n = 19). Northern blot analysis of M-1 poly(A+) RNA revealed the presence of transcripts related to the three known subunits of the rat colon Na+ channel (Canessa et al., Nature 367:463-467, 1994). We conclude that the channel in M-1 cells is closely related to the amiloride-sensitive epithelial Na+ channel in the rat colon and that the M-1 cell line provides a useful tool to investigate the biophysical and molecular properties of the corresponding channel in the cortical collecting duct.