The purpose of this study was to determine the relationship between the apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) and diffuse renal disease by diffusion-weighted echolanar magnetic resonance (MR) imaging (EPI). Thirty-four patients were examined with diffusion-weighted EPI. The average ADC values were 2.55 x 10(-3) mm2/sec for the cortex and 2.84 x 10(-3) mm2/sec for the medulla in the normal kidneys. The ADC values in both the cortex and medulla in chronic renal failure (CRF) kidneys and in acute renal failure (ARF) kidneys were significantly lower than those of the normal kidneys. In renal artery stenosis kidneys, the ADC values in the cortex were significantly lower than those of the normal and the contralateral kidneys. In the cortex, ADC values were above 1.8 x 10(-3) mm2/sec in all 32 normal kidneys, ranging from 1.6 to 2.0 x 10(-3) mm2/sec in all 8 ARF kidneys, and below 1.5 x 10(-3) mm2/sec in 14 of 15 CRF kidneys. In the medulla, there was considerable overlap in the ADC values of the normal and diseased kidneys. There was a linear correlation between ADC value and sCr level in the cortex (r = 0.75) and a weak linear correlation in the medulla (r = 0.60). Our results show that diffusion-weighted MR imaging may be useful to identify renal dysfunction.