Utilizing a combination of mechanical and chemical unilateral denervation, we have examined the relevance of renal innervation for the expression of renin in kidneys of adult rats. Renal denervation led to a reduction by 57 +/- 4% of renin-containing areas in denervated kidneys as quantitated by morphometry of kidney sections immunoreactive against a polyclonal antirenin antibody. Preprorenin mRNA content in the denervated kidneys fell to 46 +/- 7% of the contralateral innervated kidneys. Treatment of rats with the beta 1-adrenoreceptor antagonist metoprolol (100 mg.kg-1.day-1) for 2 days decreased renal renin mRNA levels to 71% of control levels. Unilateral renal denervation led to a further decrease of renin mRNA levels also in metoprolol-treated animals to 60% of the values found in the contralateral kidneys. Hypotensive hemorrhage led to a 1.4-fold increase of renin mRNA in the kidneys of sham-treated animals. In unilaterally denervated rats renin mRNA increased to levels similar to those in sham-operated animals in both denervated and in contralateral innervated kidneys in response to bleeding. As a consequence, the ratio of abundance of renin mRNA in the denervated to the innervated kidneys rose to 86 +/- 7%. Pretreatment of the animals with metoprolol, on the other hand, prevented the rise of renin mRNA in response to hypotensive hemorrhage. Our findings suggest that in the adult organism renal neural input significantly contributes to the expression of renin under basal conditions, while it appears to be of less importance for stimulation of renin gene expression by severe blood loss.