Recent experimental data underlies the role of hypoxic tubular injury in the pathophysiology of radiocontrast nephropathy. Although systemic transient hypoxemia, increased blood viscosity, and a leftward shift of the oxygen-hemoglobin dissociation curve may all contribute to intrarenal hypoxia, imbalance between oxygen demand and supply plays a major role in radiocontrast-induced outer medullary hypoxic damage. Low oxygen tension normally exists in this renal region, reflecting the precarious regional oxygen supply and a high local metabolic rate and oxygen requirement, resulting from active salt reabsorption by medullary thick ascending limbs of Henle's loop. Radiologic contrast agents markedly aggravate outer medullary physiologic hypoxia. This results from enhanced metabolic activity and oxygen consumption (as a result of osmotic diuresis and increased salt delivery to the distal nephron) because the regional blood flow and the oxygen supply actually increase. The latter effect may result in part from the activation of various regulatory mediators of outer medullary blood flow to ensure maximal regional oxygen supply. Low-osmolar radiocontrast agents may be less nephrotoxic because of the smaller osmotic load and vasomotor alterations. Experimental radiocontrast-induced renal failure requires preconditioning of animals with various insults (for example, congestive heart failure, reduced renal mass, salt depletion, or inhibition of nitric oxide and prostaglandin synthesis). In all these perturbations, which resemble clinical conditions that predispose to contrast nephropathy, outer medullary hypoxic injury results from insufficiency or inactivation of mechanisms designed to preserve regional oxygen balance. This underlines the importance of identifying and ameliorating predisposing factors in the prevention of this iatrogenic disease.