This study has examined the temporal profile and the segmental localization along the rat nephron of the increase in Na-K-ATPase produced by uninephrectomy, and the role of the adrenal gland in the generation of the increase in enzyme activity. In adrenal-intact rats, an increase in Na-K-ATPase activity in the cortical collecting tubule (CCT) was observed at 1 wk (140 +/- 13% of sham, P less than 0.05) and sustained at 2 wk (140 +/- 8% of sham, P less than 0.05). In contrast, the enhancement of enzyme activity in the proximal convoluted tubule (PCT) was transient (at 1 wk: 164 +/- 20% of sham, P less than 0.05; and at 2 wk: 97 +/- 9% of sham, P greater than 0.5). No changes in Na-K-ATPase activity were observed in the other nephron segments studied: pars recta, medullary thick ascending limb, cortical thick ascending limb, distal convoluted tubule, and medullary collecting tubule. In adrenalectomized rats, CCT enzyme activity was lower than in adrenal-intact rats (761 +/- 84 vs. 1,984 +/- 276 pmol X mm-1 X h-1, P less than 0.001) and was not altered by uninephrectomy (849 +/- 91 pmol X mm-1 X h-1, NS). We conclude that the increase in Na-K-ATPase activity following uninephrectomy is restricted to two segments of the nephron and follows a distinctive pattern in each. In the PCT a transient enhancement in enzyme activity is observed, whereas in the CCT the increase in Na-K-ATPase is sustained and requires the presence of an intact adrenal gland.