There is evidence that low birth weight caused by intrauterine growth retardation adversely affects normal renal development. Very little information on this issue is available on children born very prematurely. This investigation examined clinical and functional renal parameters in 40 children (23 boys, 17 girls) ranging in age between 6.1 and 12.4 years and weighing less than 1000 g at birth. Results were compared to those obtained in 43 healthy children of similar age and gender. Study subjects were significantly smaller and thinner than control subjects (mean height SDS: -0.36 vs. +0.70; and mean BMI SDS: -0.56 vs. +1.18). Systolic, diastolic, and mean blood pressures did not differ from those of controls. Renal sonography revealed no abnormality, and mean percentiles for renal length and volume appeared normal. In comparison with controls, plasma creatinine concentration (0.62+/-0.1 vs. 0.53+/-0.1 mg/dl) and estimated creatinine clearance (117+/-17 vs. 131+/-17 ml min(-1) 1.73 m(-2)) differed significantly. No significant differences were observed in microalbuminuria values, but five study subjects (12.5%) presented values above the upper limit of normality. A defect in tubular phosphate transport was also evident: TmP/GFR (3.6+/-0.4 vs. 4.2+/-0.8 mg/dl) and TRP (83+/-5% vs. 90+/-4%) were significantly lower, and urinary P excretion, estimated by the ratio UP/UCr, was significantly higher (1.2+/-0.4 vs. 0.9+/-0.4 mg/mg) than controls. Urinary calcium excretion, estimated by the UCa/UCr ratio, was also significantly higher (0.15+/-0.07 vs. 0.12+/-0.09 mg/mg). These data clearly demonstrate that both GFR and tubular phosphate transport are significantly diminished in school-age children born with extreme prematurity, probably as a consequence of impaired postnatal nephrogenesis.