In 11 patients with decompensated cirrhosis and deteriorating renal function, the effect of the vasoconstrictor substance 8-ornithin vasopressin (ornipressin; POR 8; Sandoz, Basel, Switzerland) on renal function, hemodynamic parameters, and humoral mediators was studied. Ornipressin was infused at a dose of 6 IU/h over a period of 4 hours. During ornipressin infusion an improvement of renal function was achieved as indicated by significant increases in inulin clearance (+65%), paraaminohippuric acid clearance (+49%), urine volume (+45%), sodium excretion (+259%), and fractional elimination of sodium (+130%). The hyperdynamic circulation was reversed to a nearly normal circulatory state. The increase in systemic vascular resistance (+60%) coincided with a decrease of a previously elevated renal vascular resistance (-27%) and increase in renal blood flow (+44%). The renal fraction of the cardiac output increased from 2.3% to 4.7% (P less than 0.05). A decline of the elevated plasma levels of noradrenaline (2.08-1.13 ng/mL; P less than 0.01) and renin activity (27.6-14.2 ng.mL-1.h-1; P less than 0.01) was achieved. The plasma concentration of the atrial natriuretic factor increased in most of the patients, but slightly decreased in 3 patients. The decrease of renal vascular resistance and the increase of renal blood flow and of the renal fraction of cardiac output play a key role in the beneficial effect of ornipressin on renal failure. These changes develop by an increase in mean arterial pressure, the reduction of the sympathetic activity, and probably of an extenuation of the splanchnic vasodilation. A significant contribution of atrial natriuretic factor is less likely. The present findings implicate that treatment with ornipressin represents an alternative approach to the management of functional renal failure in advanced liver cirrhosis.