The aim of this study was to examine the effects of angiotensin II (Ang II) on cellular functions of rat podocytes (pod) in the intact freshly isolated glomerulus and in culture. Membrane voltage (Vm) and ion currents of pod were examined with the patch clamp technique in fast whole cell and whole cell nystatin configuration. Vm of pod was -38+/-1 mV (n = 86). Ang II led to a concentration-dependent depolarization of pod with an ED50 of 10(-8) mol/liter. In the presence of Ang II (10(-7) mol/liter, n = 20), pod depolarized by 7+/-1 mV. In an extracellular solution with a reduced Cl- concentration of 32 mmol/liter, the effect of Ang II on Vm was significantly increased to 14+/-4 mV (n = 8). The depolarization induced by Ang II was neither inhibited in an extracellular Na+-free solution nor in a solution with a reduced extracellular Ca2+ (down to 1 micromol/liter). Like Ang II, the calcium ionophore A23187 (10(-5) mol/liter, n = 9) depolarized pod by 10+/-2 mV, whereas forskolin (10(-5) mol/liter), 8-(4-chlorophenylthio)-cAMP and N2,2'-o-dibutyryl-cGMP (both 5 x 10(-4) mol/liter) did not alter Vm of pod. The angiotensin 1 receptor antagonist losartan (10(-7) mol/liter) completely inhibited the Ang II-induced (10(-7) mol/liter) depolarization (n = 5). Like pod in the glomerulus, pod in short term culture depolarized in response to Ang II (10(-8) mol/liter, n = 5). Our results suggest that Ang II depolarizes podocytes directly by opening a Cl- conductance. The activation of this ion conductance is mediated by an AT1 receptor and may be regulated by the intracellular Ca2+ activity.