This study examines in vitro steroid sensitivity in chronic renal failure ( CRF) patients and its influence on the allograft outcome. We determined the inhibitory effect of dexamethasone ( DEX) on concanavalin A ( Con-A)-stimulated peripheral blood mononuclear cell ( PBMC) proliferation, and glucocorticoid receptor` ( GR) number of binding sites ( B-max) and affinity ( K-d) in 28 CRF patients and 40 normal healthy controls. Based on K-d values > 95th percentile from controls, patients were divided into two groups: glucocorticoid resistant ( n = 11) and glucocorticoid sensitive ( n = 17). Patients were followed during 18 months post-transplantation observing acute rejection episodes ( ARE), chronic allograft nephropathy ( CAN), allograft failure and death. The DEX concentration that caused 50% inhibition of Con-A-stimulated PBMC proliferation ( IC50) was higher in CRF than in healthy controls ( 2.2 x 10(-5) +/- 1.0 x 10(-5) versus 8.3 x 10(-6) +/- 4.2 x 10(-6) mol/ L, P = 0.02). Values of Kd ( 12.4 +/- 1.8 versus 7.2 +/- 0.9 nM) and Bmax ( 7.7 +/- 1.1 versus 4.1 +/- 0.3 fmol/ mg protein) were higher in CRF patients ( P = 0.02 and P = 0.001, respectively). There were higher incidences of ARE ( P = 0.02) and CAN ( P = 0.002) in the glucocorticoid-resistant group. Univariate and multivariate logistic regression showed that Kd was an independent predictor of ARE ( OR 8.8, P= 0.03) aswell as of CAN ( OR 16.5, P= 0.01). In conclusion, we observed glucocorticoid resistance in a subgroup of CRF patients undergoing dialysis, which led to a higher morbidity due to ARE and CAN in an 18-month follow-up period.