1. Rat descending colon absorbed fluid against a large hydraulic resistance, imposed by 10 % agarose (w/v) gel plugs inserted in the lumen, by raising the tonicity of the absorbate from the gel to 880 +/- 54 mosmol kg-1; the tonicity of the absorbate from 2.5 % gels was 352 +/- 38 mosmol kg-1. The hypertonic absorbate generated an osmotic pressure which created a fluid tension in the crypt lumen. This was monitored as a suction tension in colonic luminal gels of 45.3 +/- 3 cmH2O with 2.5 % gels and 725 +/- 145 cmH2O with 10 % gels. The caecum was unable to absorb fluid against a significant hydraulic resistance. 2. Fluorescein isothiocyanate-labelled dextran (FITC dextran; molecular mass 10000 Da) accumulated within descending colonic crypt lumens by concentration polarization. Maximal accumulation at a depth of 20-40 micrometer below the mucosal surface was 5.68 +/- 0.2-fold above control levels. Caecal crypts accumulated dextran to a maximum of 1.8 +/- 0.17-fold above control levels. 3. The relationship between crypt luminal tension and suction tension of the distal colon was also demonstrated using paraffin, which occluded the crypt lumens with microscopic droplets and completely inhibited fluid absorption from high resistance luminal gels. 4. Reduction in dietary Na+ intake raised plasma aldosterone and the capacity of the distal colon to dehydrate against a high luminal hydraulic resistance. The caecum did not respond in this way to varied Na+ intake.