Children with acute pyelonephritis develop polyuria and have reduced maximum urinary concentration capacity. We studied whether these abnormalities are associated with altered urinary excretion of the water channel aquaporin-2 (AQP2) in the renal collecting duct. AQP2 is the main target for antidiuretic action of arginine vasopressin (AVP), and the urinary excretion of this protein is believed to be an index of AVP signaling activity in the kidney. Children with acute pyelonephritis, aged 5-14 years, were examined for urinary flow rate, creatinine clearance, unchallenged urine osmolality, and urinary ion excretion. Urinary excretion of AQP2 was measured by dot immunoblotting technique. Studies were performed in the acute phase of pyelonephritis, in the same children after treatment, and in control patients. At the onset of pyelonephritis, urinary flow rate and solute excretion were increased, but the urinary osmolality was unchanged. The urinary level and urinary excretion of AQP2 was increased in acute pyelonephritis and decreased after treatment. Excretion of aquaporin-3 was unchanged, suggesting that the increase in AQP2 urinary excretion was not due to a shedding of collecting duct cells. The results suggest that a mechanism proximal to the collecting duct may be responsible for the polyuria observed in children with acute pyelonephritis. Increased urinary AQP2 levels suggest that a compensatory activation of apical plasma membrane targeting of AQP2 may occur in pyelonephritis.