The effects of in vivo physiologic doses of vasopressin and 1-deamino-8-D-arginine vasopressin (DDAVP) on the cyclic AMP content of plasma, urine, and renal papillary tissue were determined in the ADH-deficient Brattleboro rat. During clearance studies, plasma cyclic AMP concentrations and both total and nephrogenous urinary cyclic AMP excretion in vasopressin- and DDAVP-treated rats were similar to the values in time-matched controls. In contrast, in situ renal papillary cyclic AMP content was higher (P less than 0.001) in both vasopressin- (35.7 +/- 3.6 pmol/mg protein) and DDAVP- (29.7 +/- 2.2 pmol/mg protein) treated rats compared to controls (15.1 +/- 1.3 pmol/mg protein). Endogenous stimulation of vasopressin by dehydration in normal rats increased both papillary cyclic AMP content (27.1 +/- 2.7 pmol/mg protein) and urine osmolality, whereas no change in papillary cyclic AMP was observed following dehydration in Brattleboro rats (13.6 +/- 0.8 pmol/mg protein) despite an increase in urine osmolality. The results demonstrate that changes in cyclic AMP following in vivo vasopressin are best demonstrated by measurement of in situ cyclic AMP content of the renal papilla, whereas total urinary cyclic AMP and nephrogenous cyclic AMP are not useful indices of tubular sensitivity to this hormone.