This report describes light and transmission electron microscopy (LM and EM, respectively) studies of kidneys from five cases of hepatorenal syndrome. The kidneys were removed and fixed for LM and EM between 30 and 120 min after death. All patients had progressive renal failure after admission to the hospital. All cases were jaundiced, had ascites, and exhibited features of hepatic encephalopathy. LM study revealed severe acute tubular lesions (ATL) or, more conventionally, acute tubular necrosis (ATN). EM study demonstrated necrosis of the proximal tubules characterized by swelling, disorganization of the cristae and appearance of dark bodies in the mitochondria, coalescence, fragmentation or displacement of the microvilli, loss of plasma membranes, rupture of the basement membranes, and separation of the cells from the basement membranes. Rupture of tubular basement membranes (tubulorrhexis) and mitochondrial dark bodies suggest an ATN due to ischemia or induced by vasoconstrictor substance(s). Glomerular lesions were infrequent (one in five) and therefore, do not seem to have contributed to renal failure. All cases terminally had extremely low urinary sodium (11 mEq/liter), high urinary potassium (50 mEq/liter), a remarkably low urinary sodium/potassium ratio (0.26, normal = 4.27), and a low urinary osmolality (less than 400 mOsm/kg). From this study we conclude that an ATN of variable severity may be associated with the hepatorenal syndrome. Since this ATN developed without preceding shock, sepsis, or hypotension it is possible that this ATN like that in ischemic acute renal failure may be due to reduced renal blood flow and intense cortical vasoconstriction which has been reported in hepatorenal syndrome. Finally, our data imply that low urinary sodium is consistent with this pathologic lesion in this clinical setting.