Chronic rejection of renal allografts is a major cause of late graft loss. However, time of onset, relation with acute early rejection episodes, and risk factors are largely unknown. We undertook a cohort study of 482 consecutive patients from a single center who received a cadaveric renal allograft between January 1983 and April 1991. During the first 3 months after transplantation, 76 (15.8%) patients developed vascular rejection and 115 (23.9%) developed interstitial rejection. One-year graft survival of patients without rejection, with interstitial rejection, and with vascular rejection was 87.8%, 87%, and 48.7%, respectively. Five-year graft survival was 73.5% for the group without rejection, 71.4% for patients with interstitial rejection, and 34.3% for patients with vascular rejection. The adjusted relative risk of graft loss was 4.92 (95% CI 3.25-7.43) for patients with vascular rejection and 1.27 (95% CI 0.80-2.02) for patients with interstitial rejection compared with patients without early rejection, taking the time dependency of the rejection events and prognostic factors into account. The incidence of vascular rejection was increased in patients with primary nonfunction (RR 1.69, 95% CI 1.01-2.84), with 1 HLA-DR mismatch (RR 2.38, 95% CI 1.44-3.93), with 2 HLA-DR mismatches (RR 3.24, 95% CI 1.25-8.42), with a prolonged cold ischemia time (RR 1.03, 95% CI 1.00-1.06 per hr), and with 1 or more previous transplantations (RR 1.76, 95% CI 1.01-3.07). Risk of developing vascular rejection was decreased in patients using CsA as compared with azathioprine (RR 0.41, 95% CI 0.24-0.67). Early vascular rejection, occurring within 3 months after transplantation, is the most important predicting variable of both early and late graft loss. Use of CsA, less HLA-DR mismatching, and a cold ischemia time of short duration possibly prevent the development of vascular rejection.