The role of microtubules in small intestinal electrolyte secretion was investigated in rats by testing the effects of colchicine and vinblastine, both of which inhibit microtubule assembly. In the intact rat, intraperitoneal injection of colchicine (5 mg/kg) inhibited cholera toxin and prostaglandin-stimulated secretion without inhibiting their effects on adenylate cyclase or cAMP concentration. Pretreatment with colchicine had no effect on fluid transport in the absence of secretory stimuli. When added to rat ileum in vitro, colchicine reduced by 60% the short-circuit current (Isc) response to dibutyryl cAMP added 4 h later, whereas its structural isomer, lumicolchicine, which does not inhibit microtubule assembly, was ineffective. Vinblastine reduced by 55% the Isc response to dibutyryl cAMP and theophylline added 2 h later. Two hour pretreatment with vinblastine also reduced by 40% the Isc response to the cholinergic agonist, carbamylcholine, a Ca-dependent secretory stimulus which does not increase cAMP concentration. In contrast to their antisecretory actions, neither colchicine nor vinblastine inhibited glucose-stimulated active Na absorption. These results suggest a role for microtubules in active electrolyte secretion in the small intestine.