We studied the effect of a low-dose dopamine infusion on graft function in 60 patients undergoing transplantation with cadaveric kidneys in a prospective controlled trial. Recipients were allocated to either a control or a dopamine group, the latter receiving a 3 micrograms.kg-1 x min-1 infusion of dopamine starting intraoperatively. Evaluation of dopamine's effect was undertaken in two stages, namely, (i) initial graft function 1 wk after transplantation and (ii) graft survival at 3 mo. Initial graft function was determined by the ability of the transplanted kidney to reduce serum creatinine, and the development of acute tubular necrosis as confirmed by renal biopsy. Of the dopamine group 33.3% developed acute tubular necrosis compared to 23.3% of the control group. The second-stage evaluation was based on plasma creatinine levels and the requirement for dialysis within 3 mo of transplantation. 92.8% of the dopamine group and 76.9% of the control group had good graft function. No statistically significant difference between the two groups was found. The perioperative infusion of dopamine at 3 micrograms.kg-1 x min-1 was not shown to have any beneficial effect on the transplanted kidney in patients who do not have serious vascular disease, or who do not receive kidneys subjected to prolonged hypotension or prolonged preservation or anastomotic times.