This study was undertaken to improve the measurement of glomerular filtration rate (GFR) during the acute diuretic phase induced by atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP), which may indeed alter the renal clearance of inulin (GFRCL) due to dead space error. A technique to measure GFR without urine collections was therefore developed in anaesthetized rats prepared as for micropuncture. To do so, arterial blood was periodically collected and renal venous blood was withdrawn simultaneously from a catheter inserted into the left suprarenal vein to determine the renal extraction coefficient of inulin (CEIN). In addition, renal blood flow (RBF) was continuously measured with an electromagnetic flow transducer fitted around the left renal artery to estimate renal plasma flow (RPF). GFR (GFRCE) was then calculated as the product of RPF and CEIN. To study the effects of ANP on GFR, rats were injected i.v. with 10 microliters of saline without (n = 6; vehicle) or with 1 microgram ANP (n = 6; ANP) and GFRCE and GFRCL were compared before and after each treatment. They did not differ significantly during baseline measurements in each experimental group and were not modified after vehicle. Similarly, RBF remained constant. In contrast, RBF and GFRCE increased rapidly and simultaneously 90 s after ANP, from 9.07 +/- 0.25 to 10.07 +/- 0.35 (12%) and from 1.209 +/- 0.188 to 1.715 +/- 0.190 ml min-1 (42%), respectively (P < 0.05). GFRCL increased to an even greater extent (88%). Moreover, the peak enhancement of GFRCL was delayed and occurred 180 s after ANP. The renal clearance of inulin was thus unduly elevated due to sudden changes in the dead space induced by the diuretic effect of ANP. In conclusion, determination of glomerular filtration rate by the method of renal extraction of inulin provided more reliable results than those achieved using the classical method of renal clearance of inulin. Moreover, it was sufficiently sensitive to detect small and transient changes in GFR induced by the injection of 1 microgram ANP.