Experiments were done on rats to investigate the nature of the renal response to metabolic acidosis and the changes in enzyme activity associated with increased ammoniagenesis. When metabolic acidosis was induced with oral feeding of ammonium chloride for 48 hr, there was an increase of activity of the enzyme phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (PEPCK) in whole kidneys as well as in the kidney cortex. There was no change in PEPCK in liver, and glucose-6-phosphatase showed no change in kidney or liver in response to metabolic acidosis. The increase in PEPCK activity in kidney cortex varied with the degree of acidosis and there was a close correlation between cortical PEPCK activity and urinary ammonia. Kidney cortex mitochondrial PEPCK did not change in response to metabolic acidosis. An increase in PEPCK occurred as early as 6 hr after NH(4)Cl feeding, before there was any increase in kidney glutaminase I activity. Rats fed sodium phosphate, or given triamcinolone intramuscularly, developed a metabolic alkalosis, but there was increased urinary ammonia and an increase in activity of renal cortical PEPCK. Triamcinolone plus ammonium chloride induced a greater increase of PEPCK activity than triamcinolone by itself; on the contrary, the rise of glucose-6-phosphatase induced by triamcinolone was not enhanced by acidosis. Glucose-6-phosphatase from control and acidotic rats had identical kinetic characteristics. The results indicate that increased PEPCK activity is constantly related to increases of urinary ammonia. It is proposed that the increase of PEPCK activity is the key event in the ammoniagenesis and gluconeogenesis which follow on metabolic acidosis.