High-protein intake enhances maximal urinary concentrating ability and suppresses tubuloglomerular feedback activity in a manner that correlates with enhanced salt reabsorption in the loop of Henle. In this article we describe studies designed to localize the site at which protein intake alters loop sodium uptake (JNa) in rats fed diets containing either 6% or 40% protein for approximately 8 to 10 days. In vivo microperfusion demonstrated that luminal bumetanide (10(-5) mol/L) fully reversed the stimulation of JNa by high-protein intake, thus suggesting that high-protein intake stimulates salt transport in the thick ascending limb. In vitro studies supported this possibility, showing that high-protein intake significantly increased sodium-potassium adenosine triphosphatase (NaK ATPase) activity in homogenates of outer renal medulla (68%) and in dissected medullary thick ascending limbs (87%). This effect was partly selective, since high-protein intake did not alter NaK ATPase activity in superficial renal cortex, had a smaller and statistically insignificant effect on NaK ATPase activity in dissected pars rectae, and did not affect magnesium ATPase activity in any tissue. Furthermore, this effect did not appear to require hypertrophy, since high-protein intake for approximately 8 days did not detectably alter the relative amounts of tissue protein and DNA in either medulla or cortex. A last series of studies demonstrated that high-protein intake increased plasma aldosterone levels. We conclude that increased protein intake stimulates salt reabsorption predominantly in the thick ascending limb, an effect that is partly selective; does not appear to require hypertrophy; and may be related to increased plasma aldosterone levels.