Abstract We studied kidneys of rats intoxicated with uranylnitrate (UN) or subjected to 5/6 nephrectomy (NX) or after a combination of both procedures (NX–UN). Our observations indicate that UN causes impressive changes of ultrastructure (partial loss of brush border, appearance of intercellular clefts in the epithelial barrier) and altered protein expression (α-SMA, collagen I and III) in proximal tubule cells. Renal parameters (creatinine clearance, proteinuria) seemed to be unaffected. Blood pressure recovered to normal values within 12 months. However ultrastructural and functional restoration of modified proximal tubules was not complete. We conclude that changed proximal tubules may induce progression of interstitial fibrosis causing renal failure. NX animals and more pronounced NX–UN animals showed dramatic changes in renal function. We observed increased levels of proteinuria, blood pressure and decreased creatinine clearance. Progressive glomerular reorganization includes loss of filtration gaps and enhanced thickness of glomerular basement membranes (GBM) with increased immunoreactivity for collagen IV. Cells in vicinity of Bowman's capsule contained high amounts of immunoreactive α-smooth muscle actin. The NX–UN group showed more dramatic changes in ultrastructure of proximal tubules including apoptosis. Enhanced expression and secretion of extracellular matrix proteins (ECM e.g. collagens I, III, fibronectin) indicate progressive epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) leading to permanent impairment of renal function.