Earlier electron microscopy studies demonstrated morphological signs of fluid flow in the juxtaglomerular apparatus (JGA), including fenestrations of the afferent arteriole (AA) endothelium facing renin granular cells. We aimed to directly visualize fluid flow in the JGA, the putative function of the fenestrated endothelium, using intravital multiphoton microscopy of Munich-Wistar rats and C57BL6 mice. Renin content of the AA correlated strongly with the length of the fenestrated, filtering AA segment. Fluorescence of the extracellular fluid marker lucifer yellow (LY) injected into the cannulated femoral vein in bolus was followed in the renal cortex by real-time imaging. LY was detected in the interstitium around the JG AA before the plasma LY filtered into Bowman's capsule and early proximal tubule. The fluorescence intensity of LY in the JGA interstitium was 17.9 +/- 3.5% of that in the AA plasma (n = 6). The JGA fluid flow was oscillatory, consisting of two components: a fast (one every 5-10 s) and a slow (one every 45-50 s) oscillation, most likely due to the rapid transmission of both the myogenic and tubuloglomerular feedback (TGF)-mediated hemodynamic changes. LY was also detected in the distal tubular lumen about 2-5 s later than in the AA, indicating the flow of JGA interstitial fluid through the macula densa. In the isolated microperfused JGA, blocking the early proximal tubule with a micropipette caused significant increases in MD cell volume by 62 +/- 4% (n = 4) and induced dilation of the intercellular lateral spaces. In summary, significant and dynamic fluid flow exists in the JGA which may help filter the released renin into the renal interstitium (endocrine function). It may also modulate TGF and renin signals in the JGA (hemodynamic function).