We previously demonstrated that carbon monoxide ( CO) stimulates the apical 70-pS K+ channel in the thick ascending limb ( TAL) of the rat kidney (Liu HJ, Mount DB, Nasjletti A, and Wang WH. J Clin Invest 103: 963-970, 1999). Because the apical K+ channel plays a key role in K+ recycling, we tested the hypothesis that heme oxygenase (HO)-dependent metabolites of heme may affect Na+ transport in the TAL. We used in vivo microperfusion to study the effect of chromium mesoporphyrin (CrMP), an inhibitor of HO, on fluid absorption (J(v)) and Na+ absorption (J(Na)) in the loop of Henle and renal clearance methods to examine the effect of CrMP on renal sodium excretion. Microperfusion experiments demonstrated that addition of CrMP to the loop of Henle decreased J(v) by 13% and J(Na) by 20% in animals on normal rat chow and caused a decrease in J(v) (39%) and J(Na) (40%) in rats on a high-K+ (HK) diet. The effect of CrMP is the result of inhibition of HO because addition of MgPP, an analog of CrMP that does not inhibit HO, had no effect on J(v). Western blot analysis showed that HO-2 is expressed in the kidney and that the level of HO-2 was significantly elevated in animals on a HK diet. Renal clearance studies demonstrated that the infusion of CrMP increased the excretion of urinary Na+ (ENa) and volume (UV) without changes in glomerular filtration rate. The effect of CrMP on ENa and UV was larger in HK rats than those kept on normal chow. We conclude that HK intake increases HO-2 expression in the kidney and that HO-dependent metabolites of heme, presumably CO, play a significant role in the regulation of Na+ transport in the loop of Henle.