The mechanical disturbance after unilateral ureteral obstruction (UUO) is a nonimmune stimulus that is capable of eliciting a florid macrophage infiltration of the kidney and subsequent post-inflammatory renal scarring. Osteopontin has potential chemoattractant activity and, for this reason, we delineated the kinetics of its expression in the renal cortex of rats with UUO. Whole body X-irradiation and reversal of UUO were utilized as interventional maneuvers to give additional pathobiological insight into this protein's role in the response of the kidneys to ureteral obstruction. Increased osteopontin mRNA levels in obstructed kidneys versus contralateral unobstructed specimens were evident as early as 4 hours after UUO and steadily increased at 12, 24, 48, and 96 hours after UUO. Both X-irradiation and reversal of UUO failed to significantly modulate renal cortical osteopontin mRNA expression at all of the above time points. Paralleling the increments in renal cortical osteopontin mRNA levels were significant elevations in the cortical renal interstitial macrophage number, which was significantly diminished by previous X-irradiation but not reversal of UUO. Focal labeling of osteopontin was noted in both tubular and Bowman's capsular epithelium in obstructed kidneys as early as 4 hours after UUO, whereas, in the contralateral unobstructed specimens, there was only faint staining in Bowman's capsule. By 96 hours after UUO, obstructed kidneys exhibited intense, diffuse staining for osteopontin in both tubules and Bowman's capsule. Osteopontin's immunolocalization was not modulated by X-irradiation or reversal of UUO. These data support the contention that osteopontin is involved in the accumulation of macrophages within the peritubular and periglomerular interstitium in the obstructed renal cortex.