The midgut of the tobacco hornworm secretes K+ across the apical plasma membrane of its goblet cells. This secondary K+ transport results from K+/H+ antiport energized by the proton-motive force generated by a primary, H(+)-transporting plasma membrane V-ATPase. Thus, the lepidopteran midgut constitutes a well-established example of the emerging concept that the proton-motive force is an alternative to the classical sodium-motive force for the energization of animal plasma membranes. K+/H+ antiport in the tobacco hornworm midgut is electrophoretic, exchanging 2H+ for 1K+. Under physiological conditions, it is energized by the voltage component of the proton-motive force. The strong coupling of electrophoretic K+/2H+ antiport with the electrogenic V-ATPase provides, in principle, the minimal device for the alkalization of the midgut lumen to pH values higher than 11. K+/H+ antiport is insensitive to bafilomycin A1, but is inhibited by amiloride or Concanavalin A. Lectin staining of blots after SDS-PAGE revealed several glycosylated polypeptides in the goblet cell apical membrane which are not part of the V-ATPase and thus are candidates for the antiporter protein. Current efforts are focused on the isolation of the K+/H+ antiporter.

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