Inhibition of calcineurin-mediated signaling in T lymphocytes is a major mechanism of cyclosporine A (CsA)-induced immunosuppression, and previous rat studies have suggested that inhibition of calcineurin-mediated signaling in central neuronal pools involved in blood pressure regulation plays an important role in causing acute CsA-induced hypertension. However, a central neural mechanism is difficult to reconcile with other data suggesting that CsA-induced hypertension is due to activation of renal and other subdiaphragmtic visceral afferents that reflexively increase efferent sympathetic nerve activity. Accordingly, we now have revised our hypothesis to suggest that CsA stimulates renal afferents by a calcineurin-dependent process. To test this new hypothesis, in anesthetized rats we recorded arterial pressure and multifiber afferent renal nerve activity from the cut distal end of the renal nerve before, during, and after intravenous infusion of either CsA (5 mg/kg over 20 min, n = 8), FK506 (0.15 mg/kg, n = 7), another potent calcineurin inhibitor that is structurally unrelated to CsA, or rapamycin (0.15 mg/kg, n = 4), a structural analog of FK506 that has no effect on calcineurin. We found that renal afferent discharge was increased markedly by intravenous FK506, as well as CsA, but unaffected by rapamycin (or vehicle), indicating calcineurin mediation. After infusion of either calcineurin inhibitor, afferent renal nerve activity remained elevated for up to 2 h, paralleling the prolonged increase in blood pressure. Thus, the major new conclusion of this study is that, in contrast to what has been assumed previously, calcineurin inhibitors enhance sympathetic neurotransmission by a novel action localized to visceral sensory nerve endings rather than to nerve cell bodies or central synapses. In the rat, calcineurin-dependent activation of renal afferents appears to be the primary mechanism producing the large blood-pressure-raising effect of CsA. Because the data suggest that the major side-effect of CsA and FK506--hypertension--is inexorably linked to calcineurin inhibition in extralymphoid tissue, development of agents that selectively inhibit calcineurin only in T lymphocytes could eliminate this important secondary form of hypertension.