BACKGROUND: Recent data indicate that aldosterone aggravates cyclosporin A (CsA)-induced nephrotoxicity. We examined whether the mineralocorticoid receptor (MR) blocker eplerenone (EPL) antagonized early deterioration of renal function and blood pressure (BP) increase in CsA-treated rats. METHODS: Male Sprague-Dawley rats received CsA (15 mg/kg/day i.p.) and/or EPL (100 mg/kg/day p.o.) for 21 days. After 2 weeks, arterial, venous and urinary bladder catheters were implanted and the rats were trained to accept a restraining device allowing arterial blood sampling and direct measurement of BP and renal function. BP was measured on-line in conscious rats. RESULTS: CsA significantly increased systolic BP: 139 +/- 4 versus 134 +/- 2 mmHg, reduced body weight gain: -5 +/- 6 versus 36 +/- 7 g, glomerular filtration rate (GFR): 1.02 +/- 0.16 versus 2.64 +/- 0.27 ml/min, renal blood flow (RBF): 5.3 +/- 2.4 versus 13.5 +/- 2.1 ml/min and lithium clearance (C(Li+)): 0.16 +/- 0.04 versus 0.26 +/- 0.07 ml/min compared to controls. These changes were prevented by simultaneous EPL treatment: systolic BP, 130 +/- 4 mmHg; weight gain, 53 +/- 7 g; GFR, 1.67 +/- 0.26 ml/min; RBF, 12.3 +/- 2.1 ml/min and C(Li+), 0.27 +/- 0.03 ml/min. Analysis of kidney morphology after the CsA treatment showed hyaline vacuolization in tubules and vascular depositions in arterioles; these changes were less pronounced after combination therapy. No significant changes were seen regarding haemoglobin, haematocrit, plasma renin and vasopressin, plasma and urinary sodium, potassium, or osmolality. CONCLUSIONS: MR blockade by EPL prevented short-term alterations in GFR, RBF and hypertension associated with CsA nephrotoxicity. We conclude that the aldosterone-MR pathway contributes markedly to the renal toxicity induced by this calcineurin inhibitor.