We have used 1H-, 13C- and 14N-NMR spectroscopy to investigate the constituents of plasma and urine in 16 patients with chronic renal failure (CRF). Resonances not previously observed in spectra of plasma from healthy volunteers were seen in CRF plasma, including those for trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) and dimethylamine (DMA). A possible analogy with the plasma of elasmobranch fishes, in which TMAO stabilizes proteins in the presence of very high urea concentrations, is noted. The intensity of the TMAO resonance for CRF subjects was correlated with the plasma concentration of urea (R = 0.55) and creatinine (R = 0.74), suggesting that the presence of TMAO is closely related to the degree of renal failure. When normal subjects ate a meal of TMAO-containing fish, TMAO appeared rapidly in the plasma and in the urine. Thus TMAO is efficiently cleared by the healthy kidney. Differences in the interaction of lactate with plasma proteins were detected by NMR, suggesting that uraemia impairs their transport roles.