Several transport proteins are known to be trafficked to the cell membrane in response to appropriate secretagogues. In several cases, the response has been shown to be dependent on the cytoskeleton. We tested the hypothesis that the forskolin- and/or ionomycin-sensitive Cl- secretory response in colonic epithelia is dependent on an intact cytoskeleton. Using 125I- efflux as an assay for Cl- transport in the colonic epithelial cell line T84, we found that preincubation of the tissue for 3 h with either of two inhibitors of microtubule polymerization, nocodazole or colchicine, disrupted the cellular tubulin architecture and also reduced the forskolin- but not the ionomycin-evoked I- efflux. In contrast, brief exposure (4 min) to nocodazole was without effect on the forskolin-sensitive efflux, suggesting that the drug is not acting to block the stimulus-response pathway. An inactive structural analogue of colchicine, beta-lumicolchicine, had no inhibitory effect on either the forskolin-sensitive efflux or on microtubular structure. In a second model of Cl- secretion, the stripped rat colon, both colchicine and nocodazole reduced the forskolin-dependent short-circuit current by an average of 30-40%, suggesting a similar mechanism for insertion of Cl- channels into the plasma membrane. These findings suggest that the Cl- secretory response is dependent on microtubules and has a physiological role in the adenosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate-dependent, but not the Ca(2+)-dependent, Cl- secretion in colonic epithelia.