Because renal function and electrolyte balance are commonly altered in premature infants, particularly those requiring ventilatory support, we studied the influence of assisted ventilation on renal electrolyte and water excretion in infants with birth weights less than 1501 g during the 2 days after birth. Twenty-two infants receiving assisted ventilation, either as intermittent mandatory ventilation or nasal continuous positive airway pressure, were compared with 21 spontaneously ventilating infants of similar birthweight and gestational age. Mean (and SEM) creatinine clearance was lower (p less than 0.05) in the assisted ventilation group on day 1 (2.9 +/- 0.4 versus 4.1 +/- 0.4 ml/min/1.73 m2) and on day 2 (4.1 +/- 1.0 versus 6.8 +/- 0.8 ml/min/1.73 m2, p = 0.05), and there was a correlation between creatinine clearance and mean blood pressure in both groups. Mean urine vasopressin was higher in the assisted ventilation group on the first day (360 +/- 86 versus 123 +/- 30 pg/mg creatinine; p less than 0.02) and correlated with higher urine osmolality. There were no differences in urine volume, in osmolar or free water clearances, or in the intake and urine excretion of sodium, potassium, and chloride. Plasma renin activity, urine aldosterone, and urine prostaglandin E2 were similar in both groups on both days. Neither the mode of assisted ventilation nor the cause of respiratory failure appeared to affect these results.