Fractalkine (CX3CL1) is expressed on injured endothelial cells and is a potent chemoattractant and adhesion molecule for macrophages carrying the fractalkine receptor (CX3CR1). The aim of this study was to investigate the role of CX3CL1, and its ligand CX3CR1, in ischemic acute renal failure (ARF) in mice. On immunoblotting, CX3CL1 protein expression in the kidney increased markedly in ischemic ARF. On immunofluorescence staining, the intensity of CX3CL1 staining in blood vessels was significantly more prominent in ischemic ARF compared with controls. A specific anti-CX3CR1 antibody (25 microg i.p. 1 h before induction of ischemia) was functionally and histologically protective against ischemic ARF. CX3CR1 is predominantly expressed on macrophages. Macrophage infiltration in the kidney in ischemic ARF was significantly decreased after anti-CX3CR1 antibody treatment. To determine the role of macrophages in ischemic ARF, macrophages in the kidney were depleted using liposomal-encapsulated clodronate (LEC). LEC resulted in significant functional and histological protection against ischemic ARF. In summary, in ischemic ARF, 1) there is upregulation of CX3CL1 protein in the kidney, specifically in blood vessels; 2) CX3CR1 inhibition using a specific antibody is partially protective and is associated with reduced macrophage infiltration in the kidney; and 3) macrophage depletion in the kidney is protective.