For many years it has been thought that distal nephron hydrogen ion secretion can be importantly modulated by factors such as sodium delivery, sodium avidity, and potassium stores. Free flow micropuncture studies have also indicated that the rate of bicarbonate delivery may also alter the rate of bicarbonate reabsorption. The present studies were undertaken to examine possible luminal influences on total CO2 reabsorption in microperfused distal tubules in the rat in vivo. Tubules from normal and acidotic rats were perfused with five solutions in a manner that induced changes in bicarbonate load, sodium and potassium fluxes (JNa, JK), and luminal sulfate concentration. in each collected perfusate, simultaneous analyses were undertaken to determine water reabsorption, Na, and K concentrations using graphite furnace atomic absorption spectroscopy and total CO2 by microcalorimetry. Using factorial analysis of covariance to account for confounding effects on total CO2 flux (JtCO2) such as water reabsorption, distal tubules of acidotic rats reabsorbed CO2 in the range of 50-112 pmol X min-1 X mm-1 X These JtCO2 values were not significantly correlated with HCO3 load, JNa, or JK despite changes in the latter from net reabsorption to net secretion. Distal tubules of rats with normal acid-base status had JtCO2 values which were neither significantly different from zero nor correlated with changes in JK and JNa. Further, doubling the load from 250-500 pmol/min (by doubling the perfusion rate of 25-mM HCO3 solutions) did not stimulate JtCO2 in these normal animals. Accordingly, these acute in vivo microperfusion studies indicate for the first time that neither load nor potassium or sodium fluxes are important modulators of distal tubule bicarbonate reabsorption.