In order to evaluate the clinical usefulness of serum and urinary beta 2 microglobulin (beta 2-m) determination as a marker of renal damage following perinatal asphyxia, twenty asphyxiated and twenty healthy full term newborns were studied. Renal function was monitored on the first and third day after birth by traditional tests such as creatinine (Cr), endogenous creatinine clearance (Ccr), and fractional Na excretion (FeNa), as well as by serum and urinary beta 2 microglobulin. The value of different tests for the diagnosis of oliguria and of acute renal failure was determined. Eleven asphyxiated neonates developed oliguria and five ARF in contrast to none of the controls. Both traditional tests of renal function, and determinations of beta 2-m with the exception of serum beta 2-m, were significantly different (p less than 0.01) between controls and asphyxiated neonates. When stratified analysis was performed, only serum cr, urinary beta 2-m/cr ratio, and Fe beta 2-m were able to discriminate oliguria from preserved diuresis on the first day of life. For ARF, only Ccr and Fe beta 2-m were different, again on the first day of life. Urinary beta 2-m/creatinine ratio and Fe beta 2-m appear to be more sensitive and specific for the early detection of proximal tubular renal dysfunction following perinatal asphyxia than usual tests of renal function.