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Ammonia is a physiological fermentation product in the forestomachs and is absorbed from the rumen and omasum. Cellular uptake of ammonia affects the intracellular pH of polar and non-polar cells. The effect of the uptake on the pH of the cytosol depends on the predominant form of ammonia. NH(3) uptake and its intracellular protonation tend to alkalinize the cytoplasm, whereas the uptake of NH(4)(+) acidifies the cytoplasm by reversing this reaction. Consequently, the absorption of ammonia across the omasal epithelium could cause a change of the intracellular pH and pH-dependent transport mechanisms like Na/H exchange. Because no information is available about the form of ammonia absorbed in the omasum and, hence, possible modulation of Na transport by ammonia, the effect of increasing luminal ammonia concentrations (0, 5, 15 and 30 mmol/l) on Na transport were studied. In epithelia of hay-fed animals, ammonia linearly inhibited Na transport in a dose-dependent manner, at a luminal pH of 7.40, but not at a pH of 6.40. Ammonia did not influence Na transport in epithelia of concentrate-fed animals. Because luminal ammonia did not consistently change the short circuit current or tissue conductance absorption of ammonia as NH(4)(+) appears to be unlikely. The predominant form of ammonia absorbed in the omasum is probably NH(3), which is protonated in the cytosol. The reduced availability of protons may be the cause of inhibition of Na transport via Na/H exchange.