The term 'endotoxin tolerance' defines a state in which prior endotoxin (lipopolysaccharide (LPS)) exposure induces resistance to subsequent LPS attack. However, its characteristics within kidney have not been well defined. Hence, this study tested the impact of LPS 'preconditioning' (LPS-PC; 18 or 72 h earlier) on: (i) selected renal inflammatory mediators (tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha, interleukin-10 (IL-10), monocyte chemotactic protein-1 (MCP-1), inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4); protein or mRNA); (ii) cholesterol homeostasis (a stress reactant); and (iii) isolated proximal tubule (PT) vulnerability to hypoxia or membrane cholesterol (cholesterol oxidase/esterase) attack. Two hours post LPS injection, LPS-PC mice manifested reduced plasma TNF-alpha levels, consistent with systemic LPS tolerance. However, in kidney, paradoxical TNF-alpha hyper-reactivity (protein/mRNA) to LPS existed, despite normal TLR4 protein levels. PT TNF-alpha levels paralleled renal cortical results, implying that PTs were involved. LPS-PC also induced: (i) renal cortical iNOS, IL-10 (but not MCP-1) mRNA hyper-reactivity; (ii), PT cholesterol loading, and (iii) cytoresistance to hypoxia and plasma membrane cholesterol attack. A link between cholesterol homeostasis and cell LPS responsiveness was suggested by observations that cholesterol reductions in HK-2 cells (methylcyclodextrin), or reductions in HK-2 membrane fluidity (A2C), blunted LPS-mediated TNF-alpha/MCP-1 mRNA increases. In sum: (i) systemic LPS tolerance can be associated with renal hyper-responsiveness of selected components within the LPS signaling cascade (e.g., TNF-alpha, iNOS, IL-10); (ii) PT cytoresistance against hypoxic/membrane injury coexists; and (iii) LPS-induced renal/PT cholesterol accumulation may mechanistically contribute to each of these results.