Levels of prepro epidermal growth factor (EGF) mRNA in renal cortical tissue and urinary EGF excretion have been determined during cisplatin and ischemia-induced acute renal failure in the rat. Northern analysis of polyadenylated RNAs of kidney cortical tissue showed diminished renal preproEGF mRNA in rats injected with cisplatin (5 mg/kg). The decrease in preproEGF mRNA occurred as early as 12 hours in the kidney and persisted for at least three days after cisplatin injection. The submandibular gland, a major site of EGF synthesis, contained normal levels of preproEGF mRNA. Transplatin, a non-nephrotoxic isomer of cisplatin, did not reduce renal preproEGF mRNA levels. Northern analysis of polyadenylated RNAs of kidney cortical tissue 24 hours after a 50 minute period of renal pedicle clamping also showed reduced preproEGF mRNA levels. By contrast, cisplatin increased renal c-fos mRNA. Urinary EGF excretion was also reduced after cisplatin and ischemia and the decrease in EGF excretion correlated significantly with the degree of renal failure. The data show that nephrotoxic and ischemic renal cell injury reduces preproEGF mRNA and urinary EGF excretion. Reduced preproEGF mRNA and diminished EGF excretion may be important in the functional and regenerative responses to renal injury.