Despite the frequency and morbidity of nephrolithiasis in autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD), this association has not been subject to a detailed study. One hundred fifty-one of 751 ADPKD patients seen at the Mayo Clinic between 1976 and 1986 had nephrolithiasis. Seventy-four had passed calculi or had stones surgically removed. Stone analysis was available in 30 patients: uric acid, calcium oxalate, calcium phosphate, and struvite were present in 56.6%, 46.6%, 20%, and 10%, respectively. Calculi were observed in 71 of 79 patients with excretory urograms available for review. Faintly opaque and bull's eye stones, probably containing uric acid, were present in 12.7% and 14.1% of these patients, respectively. Precaliceal tubular ectasia was observed in 15.5%. Ninety-seven patients had preserved renal function (serum creatinine less than 1.5 mg/dL) at the initial evaluation. Six were excluded because they had other known causes of stone disease. The most common metabolic abnormality in the remaining 91 patients was hypocitric aciduria (ten of 15 patients with measurements). The urine pH in the first voided morning specimens (5.66 +/- 0.05) was significantly lower than that of an unselected control population (5.92 +/- 0.03, P less than 0.001). Hyperuricosuria, hyperoxaluria, and hypercalciuria were observed in six of 32 (18.8%), six of 31 (19.4%), and three of 39 (9.7%) patients with preserved renal function. The composition of the stones, the frequency of hypocitric aciduria, and the low urine pH (possibly related to the defect in excretion of ammonia described in ADPKD), suggest that metabolic, along with mechanical, factors are responsible for the frequent occurrence of nephrolithiasis in this disease.