Recent data suggest that sex hormones affect the thiazide-sensitive NaCl cotransporter (TSC) density or binding capacity (Chen, Z., D.A. Vaughn, and D.D. Fanestil. 1994. J. Am. Soc. Nephrol. 5:1112-1119). Thus, we determined the effect of ovariectomy (OVX) and estrogen replacement on the ultrastructural localization of TSC in rat kidney using immunocytochemistry. Kidneys of intact female (CON) and OVX rats fed ad libitum for 6 and 9 wk or pair-fed for 9 wk were processed for transmission electron microscopy. Immunogold localization of rat TSC (rTSC1) demonstrated intense label in the apical plasma membrane of CON distal convoluted tubule (DCT). In OVX DCT, rTSC1 label and apical plasma membrane microprojections were decreased. Western blots of renal membrane protein from pair-fed CON and OVX revealed bands at 129-135 kD, but the OVX signal was reduced. Morphometric analyses demonstrated that injecting 10 microg/ kg body weight 17beta-estradiol subcutaneously 4x/wk in OVX rats restored DCT apical microprojections and label density for rTSC1. Thus, in OVX rats (a) rTSC1 immunoreactive renal membrane protein is reduced; (b) apical plasma membrane complexity and immunogold label for rTSC1 in DCT is decreased; and (c) estradiol replacement restores DCT ultrastructure and rTSC1 label to normal. We conclude that estrogen enhances the density of rTSC1 in the DCT, and may alter renal Na transport by this mechanism.