To define the luminal agent(s) responsible for the reduction of nephron filtration rate following increases of loop of Henle flow rate early proximal flow rate (EPFR) during loop perfusion with 17 different salt solutions were compared to the non-perfused tubules. During orthograde microperfusions a reduction of EPFR as indication of a feedback response was noted with a number of monovalent Cl- and Br- salts (LiCl, KCl, NaCl, RbCl, CsCl, NH4Cl, choline Cl, NaBr, KBr), with Na+ salts except Na acetate (NaHCO3, NaNO3, NaF, NaI, NaSCN), and with CaCl2 and MgCl2. These latter 2 solutions where used in a concentration of 70 mM while all other solutions had a concentration of 140 mM. During retrograde perfusion from the distal to the proximal end of the loop of Henle EPFR fell significantly with Cl- and Br- salts with percentage changes of EPFR ranging from -8.0 to -44.3%. In contrast, Cl- free salts and Cl- salts of divalent cations were associated with percentage changes of EPFR ranging from +7.1 to -6.2%, significance being reached only during perfusion with NaSCN. When furosemide (5 x 10(-4) M) was added to NaBr or KBr a feedback response was not observed. During orthograde perfusion with NaNO3 distal Cl- concentrations were 44.2 +/- 5.08, mM (mean +/- S.E.) at a perfusion rate of 10 nl/min and 59.1 +/- 3.93 mM at a rate of 40 nl/min. CaCl2 perfusion induced a marked elevation of distal Cl- concentrations to levels higher than 140 mM. Loop chloride handling was normal during RbCl perfusion. The magnitude of the feedback response during retrograde perfusion was not changed by lowering NaCl concentration from 140 to 60 mM, but fell when NaCl concentration was further reduced. In contrast to orthograde perfusions it was insensitive to changes in flow rate. Our results are compatible with the thesis that feedback responses depend critically upon the rate of Cl- transport probably across the macula densa cells. Br- ions can replace Cl- because they appear to share a common transport pathway which can be inhibited with furosemide. Unspecificity of feedback responses during orthograde microperfusions is due to presence of Cl- ions in the macula densa region even when solutions are initially Cl- free. Cl- salts of divalent cations do not elicit a feedback response because Cl- transport is severely curtailed.