Studies in intact animals have shown that intestinal solute absorption may be enhanced with increasing intraluminal volume and flow rate, perhaps because of increases in functional absorptive surface area or perturbation of unstirred layers. We used single-pass perfusions of rat ileum, performed by simultaneously infusing and withdrawing at equal rates, to determine the separate effects of volume and flow rate on solute absorption at pressures between 3.0 and 12.5 cmH2O. Distention enhanced the absorption of passive probes (3H2O, urea), had no effect on the absorption of solutes transported by carrier mechanisms (D-glucose, L-alanine), and led to decreases in the net absorption of sodium and water whenever intraluminal pressure exceeded 10 cmH2O. Increasing flow rate enhanced the absorption of both glucose and 3H2O. However, the effects of increasing flow rate and distention on 3H2O were not additive. In the presence of higher filling volume, faster flow rate led to no further increases in 3H2O absorption; vice versa, at faster flow rate, no further increases in 3H2O absorption were noted when luminal volume was increased. We conclude that increased intraluminal volume enhances the absorption of solutes transported by passive but not carrier-mediated mechanisms, perhaps via augmentation of functional absorptive surface area. Increased flow rate and volume may increase the absorption of passively absorbed probes, in part, by a similar mechanism.