To assess the effects of body temperature on renal susceptibility to ischemic injury, rats were rendered acutely hypothermic (90-93 degrees F), normothermic (98-99 degrees F), or hyperthermic (101-103 degrees F) with a heat-controlled surgical board and then were subjected to 25 min of bilateral renal artery occlusion (RAO). Renal high-energy phosphates, their degradation products, and nonprotein sulfhydryl (NPSH) content were assessed at selected times during the peri-ischemic period. The severity of acute renal failure (ARF) was determined for 48 h following RAO by blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and plasma creatinine determinations and by renal histology. Ischemic ATP, ADP, AMP, GTP, GDP, UTP, and NAD levels and postischemic NPSH levels (15 min reflow) inversely correlated with temperature (P less than 0.001). BUN, creatinine concentrations (at 24 and 48 h), and histological injury (at 48 h) directly correlated with temperature (P less than 0.01). Hyperthermia in the absence of RAO had no demonstrable adverse renal effects. We conclude that hyperthermia potentiates ischemic renal injury, whereas hypothermia confers protection. These effects are associated with, and may be influenced by, temperature-induced changes in renal high-energy phosphate availability and oxidant stress during the ischemic/postischemic period.