The purpose of this study was to document the existence, assess the spatial localization, and characterize some of the transport properties of proteins antigenically related to epithelial Na+ channels in freshly isolated rabbit and rat alveolar type II (ATII) cells. ATII cells, isolated by elastase digestion of lung tissue and purified by density-gradient centrifugation, were incubated with polyclonal antibodies raised against Na+ channel protein purified from beef kidney papilla (NaAb), followed by a secondary antibody (goat antirabbit immunoglobulin G conjugated to fluorescein isothiocyanate). Rat ATII cells exhibited specific staining with NaAb at the level of the plasma membrane, which, in most cells, colocalized with that of the lectin Maclura pomiferra agglutinin, an apical surface marker. In Western blots, NaAb specifically recognized a 135 +/- 10-kDa protein in rat ATII membrane vesicles. When patch clamped in the whole cell mode using symmetrical solutions (150 mM Na+ glutamate), ATII cells exhibited outwardly rectified Na+ currents that were diminished by amiloride (10-100 microM) instilled into the bath solution. Ion substitution studies showed that the conductive pathways were three times more permeable to Na+ than K+. Amiloride, benzamil, and 5-(N-ethyl-N-isopropyl)-2',4'-amiloride were equally effective in diminishing 22Na+ flux into rabbit and rat ATII cells (45% inhibition at 100 microM, with IC50 of approximately 1 microM for all inhibitors). Tetraethylammonium chloride (10 mM) or BaCl2 (2 mM), well-known K+ channel blockers, had no effect on 22Na+ uptake. These results indicate that ATII cells express an amiloride-sensitive Na+ conductance, probably a channel, with a lower affinity for amiloride and its structural analogues than the well-established amiloride-sensitive Na+ channels found in bovine renal papila and cultured amphibian A6 kidney cells.