If the plasma membrane and its associated transport proteins are solely responsible for maintenance of the asymmetric solute distribution then disruption of the plasma membrane would quickly lead to the symmetric distribution of all unattached inorganic ions between the cell and the extracellular environment. To test this hypothesis fresh pig lenses were incubated in Hanks ’ balanced salt solution in either absence or presence of non-ionic detergents (0.2 % Triton X-100 or 0.2 % Brij 58). Both detergents caused permeabilization of every lens fiber cell as shown by electron microscopy. The flux kinetics of K+, Mg2 +, Na+, Ca2 +, water and protein out of and into the permeabilized lens fiber cells was measured. Triton X-100 caused a faster flux rate of all solutes than did Brij 58. The Triton X-100 induced flux of solutes and water was associated with a decrease in lens ATP. Incubation of untreated lenses in solutions of different osmotic pressures at 0 °C demonstrated that the major fraction of lens water was osmotically unresponsive. Thus the asymmetric distribution of solutes in lens fiber cells is dependent on an intact plasma membrane and on a co-operative ATP-dependent association between K+, Mg2 +, water and cytomatrix proteins.