The split hydronephrotic kidney preparation was used to directly observe the effects of locally applied dopamine on the in vivo diameters of renal vessels. Dopamine (1 X 10(-6) to 3 X 10(-5) M) produced a concentration-dependent dilation of the arcuate and interlobular arteries and afferent arterioles. Efferent arterioles near the glomeruli also dilated to dopamine but the dilation was less than that of the preglomerular vessels. Higher dopamine concentrations (3 X 10(-4) and 1 X 10(-3) M) produced more variable effects, with a tendency for the arcuate and interlobular arteries and the afferent and efferent arterioles away from the glomeruli to decrease in diameter. After pretreatment with haloperidol, dopamine (1 X 10(-6) to 1 X 10(-4) M) did not dilate any pre- or postglomerular vascular segment, but the tendency for pre- and postglomerular constrictions with higher dopamine concentrations were not abolished. Pretreatment with phentolamine and propranolol enhanced the dilator response of the pre- and postglomerular vessels (except the afferent arterioles near glomeruli and efferent arterioles near welling points) to dopamine (3 X 10(-5) and 1 X 10(-4) M), and abolished the reductions in diameter produced by the high dopamine levels. These data indicate that the dilator effect of dopamine is mediated by interactions with specific dopaminergic receptors, while alpha and beta adrenergic receptors appear to mediate a constrictor influence observed with high dopamine concentrations. The overall effect of dopamine on the renal vessel diameters thus appears to depend on the balance of dilator and constrictor stimuli mediated by multiple receptors.