The participation of renal nerves in the regulation of sodium excretion was studied in fed and overnight-fasted rats subjected to acute or chronic left kidney denervation or sham operation. Clearance experiments were performed on conscious restrained animals. Urine flow, glomerular filtration rate (GFR), and urinary sodium excretion were not different in left and right kidneys of sham-operated rats. In fed conscious rats, urine flow, GFR, and urinary sodium excretion of innervated (I) and denervated (D) kidneys were similar. In fasted conscious rats, significant denervation natriuresis was observed after both acute (I, 1.06 +/- 0.27; D, 1.56 +/- 0.40 mumol . min-1 . g-1, P less than 0.05) and chronic (I, 1.55 +/- 0.19; D, 2.20 +/- 0.18 mumol . min-1 . g-1, P less than 0.01) renal sympathectomy, whereas urine flow and GFR in I and D kidneys were not different. Additional experiments revealed that extracellular fluid and plasma volumes of fasted rats were decreased by approximately 10% compared with those of fed animals due to a significant overnight natriuresis and negative water balance. In fed conscious rats, the renal nerves do not seem to participate in the regulation of sodium excretion. The presence of denervation natriuresis in conscious fasted rats suggests that renal nerves are involved in sodium conservation during fasting to maintain extracellular fluid and plasma volume.