Because the frontal area of the intercellular clefts in Malpighian tubules is small, and the osmotic permeability of the cell membranes is large, the route for transepithelial water movement during fluid secretion is transcellular. Water movements appear to be a passive response to osmotic gradients of a few mosmol 1−1 produced in the cells and in the lumen by active ion transport.
The excretory functions of Malpighian tubules are discussed in relation to recent analyses of the routes of passive permeation for non-electrolytes. Uncharged molecules smaller than a disaccharide appear to move at significant rates through the cells whereas molecules as large as inulin traverse the epithelium by a paracellular path. In addition there are specific active transport mechanisms for a variety of organic molecules.
The routes and mechanisms proposed for water and solute movements are discussed in relation to comparable studies in other epithelia.