The renal growth hormone--insulin-like growth factor-I system in acute ischemic renal failure. Recovery from acute tubular necrosis (ATN) is accelerated by IGF-I therapy. Furthermore, the local renal growth hormone-IGF-I system may participate in the natural repair. We examined the IGF-I system in rat kidneys subjected to 60 minute ischemia compared to sham operated controls. Two days after injury, growth hormone receptor mRNA and IGF-I mRNA levels fell approximately 9 to 33% of control values. This was associated with a reduction in kidney immunoreactive IGF-I levels. In contrast, IGF-I receptor mRNA abundance was unchanged. However, plasma membrane IGF-I receptor binding on day 2 and day 7 was near double the control values (P < 0.01). Scatchard analysis revealed a near twofold increase in receptor number. Since receptor mRNA levels were unchanged, this implies receptor protein up-regulation. In contrast to unchanged IGF-I receptor mRNA levels, the abundance of mRNA levels of insulin-like growth factor binding proteins (IGFBP) -2, -3, -4 and -5 fell approximately 14 to 62% of control levels day 2 after injury (P < 0.05), suggesting reduced IGFBP production. Thus, the renal response to ischemic ATN, namely, low IGFBP mRNA levels and high IGF-I receptor number, may function to increase IGF-I bioavailability and thereby enhance the reparative actions of local and circulating IGF-I in ischemic ATN.