The effect of tissue preparation on glomerular volume in normal rats was assessed. In group 1 rats (N = 8), kidney tissue was obtained by immersion-fixation of needle biopsy cores and excised slices from the left kidney and by perfusion-fixation of the remaining right kidney at close to ambient arterial pressure. In group 2 rats (N = 8), tissue was obtained by kidney perfusion at a supernormal pressure (approximately 165 mm Hg). Studies in group 1 showed that mean glomerular volume (VG) was not different in biopsy cores (1.07 +/- 0.13 x 10(6) mu 3) and in kidney slices fixed by immersion (0.92 +/- 0.09 x 10(6) mu 3). A significantly higher value for VG (1.51 +/- 0.18 x 10(6) mu 3) was obtained in kidneys perfusion-fixed at close to ambient arterial pressure. Morphometric studies showed that reduced VG in immersion-fixed tissue was associated with lowered values for peripheral capillary wall surface area (225 +/- 21 x 10(3) mu 2 versus 159 +/- 27 x 10(3) mu 2, p less than 0.05) and reduced mean capillary radius (4.5 +/- 6 mu versus 2.7 +/- 3 mu, p less than 0.05) compared with perfusion-fixed tissue. The data suggest that glomerular capillaries contract when tissue is immersion-fixed and shows that values for mean peripheral capillary wall surface area/glomerulus and mean glomerular capillary radius obtained in immersion- and perfusion-fixed tissue cannot be directly compared. Studies in group 2 showed that VG was not altered by perfusion at a supernormal pressure (1.40 +/- 0.16 x 10(6) mu 3) as compared with perfusion at ambient pressure (1.51 +/- 0.18 x 10(6) mu 3). Further studies in group 1, however, showed that values for VG obtained in paraffin-embedded tissue were approximately 40% lower than values for VG obtained in methacrylate-embedded tissue from the same kidneys.