The 5/6 nephrectomy model is used to study pathogenetic mechanisms underlying chronic renal failure. We previously demonstrated that increased mesangial cell proliferation and glomerular PDGF B-chain expression precede glomerulosclerosis in this model. In the present study we have assessed the concomitant changes in the cortical tubulointerstitium. A wave of tubular and interstitial cell proliferation (as determined by immunostaining for PCNA) occurred at week 1 after 5/6 nephrectomy. This wave preceded the peak glomerular cell proliferation by one week. Tubulointerstitial cell proliferation decreased thereafter and reached control values by week 10. In situ hybridization and immunostaining for PDGF B-chain and beta-receptor in sham-operated controls showed labeling of distal tubules and collecting ducts, while no signal was present in the interstitium. PDGF B-chain mRNA and protein expression was markedly increased in tubules at weeks 2 and 4 after 5/6 nephrectomy and in the interstitium (particularly in areas of inflammatory infiltrates) at weeks 2 to 10. Similar changes occurred with PDGF receptor beta-subunit immunostaining. Interstitial expression of desmin and alpha-smooth muscle actin (markers of myofibroblasts) progressively increased after week 1. Interstitial influx of monocytes/macrophages with focal accentuation started at week 2. Counts of lymphocytes, neutrophils and platelets showed only minor changes. In parallel to the monocyte/macrophage influx, progressive interstitial accumulation of collagens I and IV, laminin, and fibronectin occurred. All of these changes were correlated with the increase in serum creatinine, proteinuria and an index of tubulointerstitial damage. We conclude that tubulointerstitial changes after 5/6 nephrectomy show similarities with those observed in the glomeruli. Tubular and interstitial overexpression of PDGF B-chain and its receptor may play a role in mediating fibroblast migration and/or proliferation in areas of tubulointerstitial injury.