This study evaluated the effects of increasing plasma endotoxin (Difco 055:B5) concentration by intravenous and intrarenal infusion on renal hemodynamics and renal function. Plasma endotoxin was increased to 130-150 ng/ml (infusion rate of 32 micrograms/min) in two groups of dogs and changes in plasma endotoxin concentration were correlated with arterial pressure (AP), glomerular filtration rate (GFR), renal blood flow (RBF), and urinary sodium excretion (UNaV) for 4 hr. In group 1, intrarenal endotoxin infusion decreased AP, GFR, RBF, and UNaV equally between infused and contralateral noninfused kidneys. In dogs with unilateral renal denervation (group 2), intravenous endotoxin maximally decreased AP, GFR, RBF, and UNaV in both kidneys by 90 min. Despite continued endotoxin infusion, RBF and GFR then spontaneously increased after 90 min, and by 240 min these values were significantly greater in the innervated kidneys compared with denervated kidneys (P less than 0.05). In both groups of dogs, the spontaneous increase in GFR and RBF was associated with a spontaneous increase in arterial pressure. These data suggest that renal dysfunction during moderate endotoxemia may be mediated by systemic hemodynamic changes rather than by direct intrarenal toxicity and that renal innervation may protect against endotoxin-induced reductions in RBF and GFR.