The mechanisms involved in renal ischemia-reperfusion injury (IRI) are complex and appear to involve the early participation of bone marrow-derived cells. T lymphocytes participate in the pathogenesis of IRI. Sphingosine 1-phosphate (S1P) induces peripheral T cell depletion. Therefore, we hypothesized that S1P1 receptor activation protects kidney from IRI. FTY-720, a non-receptor-selective sphingosine analog, was given intraperitoneally to C57BL/6 mice, and animals were subjected to ischemia for 32 min followed by reperfusion for 24 h. Plasma creatinine, blood count, myeloperoxidase (MPO) activity, and renal histology were determined. IRI led to a marked increase in plasma creatinine, MPO activity, leukocyte infiltration, and vascular permeability. FTY-720 significantly decreased plasma creatinine in a dose-response manner with a maximal reduction of approximately 73 and approximately 69% with doses of 240 and 48 microg/kg, respectively. MPO, leukocyte infiltration, vascular permeability, and peripheral blood lymphocyte counts were markedly decreased with FTY-720 treatment. The protective effect of FTY-720 was reversed with VPC-44116, a selective S1P1 receptor antagonist. Furthermore, SEW-2871, a selective S1P1 agonist, significantly decreased plasma creatinine in a dose-response manner with a maximal reduction of approximately 70% with a dose of 10 mg/kg. Analysis of kidneys by light microscopy revealed minimal histological signs of ischemic injury with FTY-720 or SEW-2871 treatment compared with the vehicle group. Using RT-PCR, we found a time-dependent increase in the S1P1 mRNA expression following IRI that begins after 2 h with the maximum expression at approximately 4 h. We conclude that the protective effect of FTY-720 is due primarily to activation of S1P1 receptors. The mechanism of protection is not known but may be related to peripheral lymphocyte depletion or direct effects on kidney cells expressing S1P1 receptor.