The mechanisms of secretion of endolymph were studied in vitro in the isolated inner ear of the frog. Prior to in vitro experiments, the composition of perilymph was evaluated in vivo and compared to that of plasma. Composition of perilymph resembled that of an extracellular fluid, although Na and Cl concentrations were higher and K concentration was lower in perilymph than in plasma water. No difference in Ca and Mg concentrations was observed between these two fluids. Osmolality averaged 227 mosmol/kg H2O in perilymph and 183 mosmol/kg H2O in plasma. Endolymph in frog inner ear corresponded in chemical pattern to mammalian endolymph. K and Na concentrations in endolymph collected from the ampulla of the posterior vertical semicircular canal averaged 121.1 mM and 2.5 mM, respectively. Osmolality of endolymph was 237 mosmol/kg H2O. K and Na concentrations were unaltered when inner ears were incubated for 24 h either at 15 degrees C or at 4 degrees C. Addition of ouabain (10(-4) M) to the perilymph-like bathing solution altered greatly Na and K composition of endolymph after incubation for 3 h at 15 degrees C. The Na and K concentration gradients between endolymph and the bath were abolished after incubation for 24 h. Ligatures of the posterior vertical semicircular canal were performed at different sites to isolate some parts of the canal, i.e. the ampulla and the non-ampullar duct. K concentration in the ampulla after incubation for 24 h remained as high as 20 times that in the bath. This K gradient was abolished in the presence of ouabain (10(-4) M). High K concentration could be maintained in the non-ampullar part of the semicircular canal only if the latter communicated with the ampulla. It is concluded that endolymph is actively secreted into the ampulla of the semicircular canal. Na+-K+-activated ATPase in the ampullar dark cells may energize the ouabain sensitive ionic transports that are involved in the production of endolymph. Endolymph secreted into the ampulla would spread intraluminally to account for the high K and low Na concentrations of the fluid which fills the non-secretory part of the semicircular canal.