BACKGROUND Following allotransplantation, renal ischemia-reperfusion (I/R) injury initiates a series of events that provokes counter-adaptive immunity. Though T cells clearly mediate allospecific immunity, the manner in which reperfusion events augment their activation has not been established. In addition, comprehensive analysis of I/R injury in humans has been limited. METHODS To evaluate the earliest events occurring following allograft reperfusion and gain insight into those factors linking reperfusion to alloimmunity, we examined human renal allografts 30 to 60 minutes postreperfusion (n=10) and compared them with allografts with normal function that had resolved their I/R injury insult (>1 month posttransplant, n=6) and to normal kidneys (living donor kidneys before procurement, n=8). Biopsies were processed both for immunohistochemical analysis as well as for transcript analysis by real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). RESULTS Reperfusion injury was characterized by increased levels of gene transcripts known to be involved in cellular adhesion, chemotaxis, apoptosis, and monocyte recruitment and activation. T-cell-associated transcripts were generally absent. However, recovered allografts exhibited increased levels of T-cell and costimulation-related gene transcripts despite normal allograft function. Consistent with these findings, the immediate postreperfusion state was characterized histologically by tubular injury and monocyte infiltration, while the stable posttransplant state was notable for T-cell infiltration. CONCLUSIONS These data suggest that monocytes and transcripts related to their recruitment dominate the immediate postreperfusion state. This gives way to a T-cell dominant milieu even in grafts selected for their stable function and absence of rejection. These data have implications for understanding the fundamental link between I/R injury and alloimmunity.