A morphometric study was undertaken to quantitate the morphologic changes induced by ADH availability in the rat kidney. Homozygous Brattleboro rats with hereditary diabetes insipidus (DI) (no ADH) were compared to heterozygous Brattleboro control rats (HZ) and to DI rats after 5 to 6 weeks of continuous ADH infusion by implantable Alzet osmotic minipumps (TDI). ADH resulted in a 37% increase in mass of kidney per unit body wt. All kidney zones and all nephron segments were not increased uniformly. The inner stripe was enlarged more than other renal zones. It represented 15.5 +/- 0.7% of the total kidney height along the cortico-papillary axis in DI and 22.2 +/- 1.5% in TDI (P less than 0.025). The volume of the inner stripe in DI and TDI amounted to 10.9 +/- 0.9 and 18.0 +/- 1.0% of the total kidney volume, respectively (P less than 0.001). Selective increases in tubular diameter and cell height, due mostly to an hypertrophy of pre-existing cells, were observed in the earliest part of the thick ascending limbs (TAL) in the inner stripe, resulting in a twofold increase in epithelial volume per unit tubular length (P less than 0.001). Volume density of mitochondria and surface density of basolateral membranes were unchanged but, due to the increase in cell volume and inner stripe thickness, the amount of mitochondria and the surface area of basolateral membrane in the TAL were more than tripled in the inner stripe of treated rats. These changes provide a much greater salt transport capacity in the TAL of treated rats. They probably represent an adaptation of the early TAL to an enhanced sodium chloride transport in response to a direct ADH stimulation and/or to an increased salt delivery to this segment in the concentrating kidney.