The epithelial brush border (BB) Na+/H+ exchanger, NHE3, plays a major role in transcellular Na+ absorption in the renal proximal tubule. NHE3 activity is rapidly regulated by neurohumoral substances and growth factors via changes in its amount on the BB by a process partially involving vesicle trafficking. The PDZ domain-containing proteins, NHERF1/2, are scaffold proteins that link NHE3 to the actin cytoskeleton via their binding to both ezrin and NHE3. NHERF1/2 interact with both an internal C-terminal domain of NHE3 and the N-terminus of ezrin. We used fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP) to study the effect of NHERF1/2 on NHE3 mobility in the brush border of opossum kidney (OK) proximal tubule cells. A confocal microscope was used to allow the selective study of apical membrane versus intracellular NHE3. A chimera of NHE3-EGFP was transiently expressed in OK cells and its lateral diffusion in the apical membrane was measured with FRAP and confocal microscopy at 37 degrees C. The contribution of intracellular NHE3-EGFP to recovery on the OK surface not directly over the juxtanuclear area (non-JN) was negligible as exposure to the water soluble crosslinker BS3 (10 mM) at 4 degrees C resulted in no recovery of this component of surface NHE3-EGFP after photobleaching. The mobile fraction (Mf) of apical NHE3-EGFP was 47.5+/-2.2%; the effective diffusion coefficient (Deff) was (2.2+/-0.3) x10(-10) cm2/second. Overexpression of NHERF2 in OK cells decreased the Mf to 29.1+/-3.1% without changing Deff. In the truncation mutant, NHE3585-EGFP (aa 1-585), which lacks the NHERF1/2 binding domain, Mf increased to 66.4+/-2.2%, with no change in Deff, whereas NHE3660-EGFP, which binds NHERF1/2, had Mf (48.3+/-3.0%) and Deff both similar to full-length NHE3. These results are consistent with the PDZ domain proteins NHERF1 and NHERF2 scaffolding NHE3 in macromolecular complexes in the apical membrane of OK cells under basal conditions, which limits the lateral mobility of NHE3. It is probable that this is one of the mechanisms by which NHERF1/2 affects rapid regulation of NHE3 by growth factors and neurohumoral mediators. By contrast, disrupting the actin cytoskeleton by latrunculin B treatment (0.05 microM, 30 minutes) reduced the NHE3 Mf (21.9+/-4.5%) without altering the Deff. Therefore the actin cytoskeleton, independently of NHERF1/2 binding, is necessary for apical membrane mobility of NHE3.