Acute kidney injury (AKI) induces adaptive responses within proximal tubular (PT) cells that serve to protect them from further ischemic or toxic damage. However, it is not known whether uremia, a potential consequence of AKI, independently alters susceptibility to tubular injury. To address this issue, we subjected CD-1 mice to bilateral ureteral transection (BUTx), which produces uremia (blood urea nitrogen approximately 150 mg/dl) in the absence of direct renal damage. PT segments were then isolated from BUTx and control mice and subjected to in vitro hypoxic injury. Additionally, "in vitro uremia" was modeled in isolated tubules or in cultured PT (HK-2) cells by addition of 1) peritoneal dialysate (obtained from mice with bilateral ureteral obstruction), 2) peritoneal fluid (from BUTx mice), or 3) normal human urine (pH 7.4, with and without boiling). Effects on injury severity (lactate dehydrogenase release) were assessed. Finally, because uremia is a prooxidant state, it was hypothesized that BUTx would increase renal lipid peroxidation (malondialdehyde) and induce heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1), a redox-sensitive cytoprotective protein. BUTx conferred striking protection against hypoxic damage. This could be partially modeled in tubules and HK-2 cells by induction of in vitro uremia. Urine's protective action was heat labile (largely destroyed by boiling). BUTx caused a tripling of renal malondialdehyde and HO-1 protein levels. Increased HO-1 transcription was likely involved, as indicated by a tripling of HO-1 mRNA and RNA polymerase II binding along the HO-1 gene (chromatin immunoprecipitation assay). "Gene-activating" histone modifications [H3K4 trimethylation (H3K4m3) and histone 2 variant (H2A.Z)] at HO-1 gene loci were also observed. Uremia, per se, can contribute to the AKI-induced cytoresistance. Low-molecular-weight, heat-labile, cytoprotective factor(s) and uremia-induced renal stress responses (e.g., HO-1 gene activation) are likely involved. Finally, renal HO-1 induction following AKI may reflect direct cell injury effects and adaptations to uremia.