Unilateral ureteral obstruction (UUO) is a model of renal injury characterized by progressive tubulointerstitial fibrosis and renal damage, while relatively sparing the glomerulus and not producing hypertension or abnormalities in lipid metabolism. Tubulointerstitial fibrosis is a major component of several kidney diseases associated with the progression to end-stage renal failure. Here we report that when a critical renal developmental morphogen, osteogenic protein-1 (OP-1; 100 or 300 microg/kg body wt), is administered at the time of UUO and every other day thereafter, interstitial inflammation and fibrogenesis are prevented, leading to preservation of renal function during the first 5 days after obstruction. Compared with angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibition with enalapril treatment, OP-1 was more effective in preventing tubulointerstitial fibrosis and in preserving renal function. The mechanism of OP-1- induced renal protection was associated with prevention of tubular atrophy, an effect not shared with enalapril, and was related to preservation of tubular epithelial integrity. OP-1 blocked the stimulation of epithelial cell apoptosis produced by UUO, which promoted maintenance of tubular epithelial integrity. OP-1 preserved renal blood flow (RBF) during UUO, but enalapril also stimulated RBF. Thus OP-1 treatment inhibited tubular epithelial disruption stimulated by the renal injury of UUO, preventing tubular atrophy and diminishing the activation of tubulointerstitial inflammation and fibrosis and preserving renal function.