We studied 31 stable renal cadaver kidney transplant patients receiving cyclosporine (CyA) and prednisone for immunosuppression to determine what reduction in true glomerular filtration rate (GFR) was reflected by their mild elevation in plasma creatinine concentration (1.8 +/- 0.11 mg/dL). We measured both the creatinine clearance (60 +/- 4.32 mL/min/1.73 m2) and the true GFR using Technetium 99m-DTPA (44 +/- 2.72 mL/min/1.73 m2). The creatinine clearance overestimated true GRF by a mean of 38%, indicating that this percentage of creatinine reached the urine by tubular secretion rather than glomerular filtration. A similar degree of overestimation was found in a separate group of 14 patients receiving imuran for immunosuppression. In 23 patients receiving CyA in whom the serum creatinine concentration was less than 2.0 mg/dL, the mean DTPA clearance was 49.5 +/- 2.83 mL/min/1.73 m2. In stable renal transplant patients receiving CyA, a serum creatinine concentration at, or close to, the upper limit of the normal range may reflect markedly impaired renal function.