Calcineurin inhibitors (CNIs) promote fibrosis in renal allografts by altering the dynamics of extracellular matrix (ECM) turnover. Graft structure is changed and functional disturbance may follow. This study examined the effects of an antifibrotic agent, pirfenidone, on functional, structural, and molecular markers of fibrosis in a rat model. Cyclosporine or tacrolimus were administered to salt-depleted rats, with or without varying doses of pirfenidone. Both CNIs increased serum creatinine, and pirfenidone attenuated this functional disturbance. No changes in urinary protein excretion or graft histology were observed, suggesting structural and functional alterations can be dissociated. Messenger RNA expression of pro- and antifibrotic genes affecting ECM was estimated with semiquantitative RT-PCR. Cyclosporine-induced increases in collagen III mRNA expression were attenuated by pirfenidone (500 mg/kg/d), and increases in TIMP-1 expression were reversed by all doses of pirfenidone. Matrix metalloproteinase-2 expression was decreased by cyclosporine; all doses of pirfenidone significantly reversed this effect. Tacrolimus alone decreased TGF-beta and TIMP-1 expression, suggesting some antifibrotic action; addition of pirfenidone had no further effect. The mechanism of action of pirfenidone is reversal of some CNI-induced changes in fibrotic gene expression. It also attenuates creatinine rise in salt-depleted rats in this model of CNI-induced nephrotoxicity.