- In this study we investigated the effects of intracellular pH (pHi) and extracellular pH (pHe) on whole-cell currents in cultured glomus cells of the rat carotid body and small, intensely fluorescent (SIF) cells of sympathetic ganglia. The use of the perforated-patch recording technique along with established methods of cytoplasmic acidification allowed us to carry out this study without greatly disturbing the cell's endogenous pH regulatory mechanisms. A reversible decrease in the outward K+ current (20-30%) was observed during acid loading of glomus (and SIF cells) using the K+/H+ ionophore nigericin (3 microM) and acetate (20 mM). A reversible decrease in the inward Na+ current was also observed in both cell types during nigericin application. Application of amiloride (0.1 mM) to the bathing solution inhibited recovery of the K+ current from an acid load implicating the Na+/H+ antiporter as a mechanism involved in pH homeostasis in glomus cells. A reversible decrease in K+ and Na+ currents was also observed during changes in pHe from 7.4 to 6.5. The effects of pHi on membrane currents, Ca2+ levels, and neurotransmitter release are discussed in the context of the role of glomus cells as primary transducers of chemosensory stimuli in arterial blood.