In contrast to other sympathetic outflow tracts, renal sympathetic nerve activity (RSNA) decreases in response to hypotensive hemorrhage. The functional significance of this "paradox" is not known. We tested the hypothesis that RSNA modulates renal perfusion and thus erythropoietin (EPO) release after transient hypotensive hemorrhage in anesthetized rats. Plasma EPO was measured before and after 30 min of transient hypotensive hemorrhage (i.e., -40 mmHg from mean baseline blood pressure, followed by reinfusion of shed blood) and 120 min thereafter in sham-denervated rats, and after renal denervation (DNX) or bilateral cervical vagotomy (VX) to abolish/blunt the RSNA decrease mediated by a cardiopulmonary reflex. RSNA, renal Doppler flow, renal vascular resistance (RVR), resistance index, and oxygen delivery/uptake (Do(2)/Vo(2)) were measured. RSNA decreased in intact animals (-40 +/- 5% from baseline, P < 0.05). This was blunted by VX. With intact nerves, EPO level did not increase. In DNX rats, EPO was increased at minute 120 (49 +/- 3 vs. 74 +/- 2 mU/ml; P < 0.05), in VX rats this (47 +/- 2 vs. 62 +/- 4 mU/ml; P < 0.05) was less pronounced. Do(2) in DNX rats was lower compared with intact and VX rats (0.25 +/- 0.04 vs. 0.51 +/- 0.06 and 0.54 +/- 0.05 ml O(2)/min; P < 0.05) due to lower Doppler flow and increased RVR. RVR and Do(2) were similar in intact and VX rats, but resistance index differed between all groups (0.70 +/- 0.02 vs. 0.78 +/- 0.02 vs. 0.85 +/- 0.02; P < 0.05, intact vs. VX vs. DNX), indicating differential reactivity of renal vasculature. Vo(2) was unaffected by VX and DNX. Renal sympathoinhibition during hypotensive hemorrhage might help to preserve sufficient oxygenation of renal tissue by modulation of hemodynamic mechanisms that act to adapt renal oxygen availability to demand.