Lysosphingolipids such as sphingosine-1-phosphate (SPP) and sphingosylphosphorylcholine (SPPC) can act on specific G-protein-coupled receptors. Since SPP and SPPC cause renal vasoconstriction, we have investigated their effects on urine and electrolyte excretion in anaesthetized rats. Infusion of SPP (1 - 30 microg kg(-1) min(-1)) for up to 120 min dose-dependently but transiently (peak after 15 min, disappearance after 60 min) reduced renal blood flow without altering endogenous creatinine clearance. Nevertheless, infusion of SPP increased diuresis, natriuresis and calciuresis and, to a lesser extent, kaliuresis. These tubular lysosphingolipid effects developed more slowly (maximum after 60 - 90 min) and also abated more slowly upon lysosphingolipid washout than the renovascular effects. Infusion of SPPC, sphingosine and glucopsychosine (3 - 30 microg kg(-1) min(-1) each) caused little if any alterations in renal blood flow but also increased diuresis, natriuresis and calciuresis and, to a lesser extent, kaliuresis. Pretreatment with pertussis toxin (10 microg kg(-1) 3 days before the acute experiment) abolished the renovascular and tubular effects of 30 microg kg(-1) min(-1) SPP. These findings suggest that lysosphingolipids are a hitherto unrecognized class of endogenous modulators of renal function. SPP affects renovascular tone and tubular function via receptors coupled to G(i)-type G-proteins. SPPC, sphingosine and glucopsychosine mimic only the tubular effects of SPP, and hence may act on distinct sites.