Interference-contrast and fluorescent microscopy were used to differentiate between the two cell types--principal cells (PC) and intercalated cells (IC)--of the isolated perfused cortical collecting duct of the rabbit. Using Hoffman Modulation Contrast optics, two types of cell outlines could be identified: "hexagonal" and "circular" profiles. To characterize the cell types further, the binding of fluorescein-labeled peanut lectin, which has been shown to be specific for the luminal cell membrane of the IC, was monitored with epifluorescent techniques. The lectin was observed to bind to the circular cell type only, confirming it as the IC. With use of the fluorescent nuclear probe acridine orange to quantitate the total number of cells per millimeter of tubule length, the fraction of ICs (lectin-binding cells) was estimated to average 29%, and the fraction of PCs (non-lectin-binding cells) to average 71% of all cells. The studies were extended to functionally separate between the two cell types by monitoring cell swelling when a lumen-to-bath current pulse was passed. Current-induced swelling was observed only in the PC and could be inhibited by the luminal addition of both the Na+ channel blocker amiloride, and the K+ channel blocker barium, thereby implicating the PC in the process of Na+ absorption and K+ secretion in this tissue. It is concluded that optical techniques can be applied to the cortical collecting duct perfused in vitro to differentiate between and study functional properties of the cell types.