Tubulointerstitial inflammation and fibrosis are critical determinants for renal function and prognosis in a variety of human nephropathies. Yet, the pathophysiology of the injury remains obscure. We investigated the expression of SPARC (secreted protein acidic and rich in cysteine) by immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization in experimental models characterized by tubulointerstitial fibrosis and matrix expansion in rats. SPARC is a secreted glycoprotein that has been demonstrated to affect cellular interaction with matrix proteins, modulate cell proliferation, bind to and/or inhibit growth factors such as PDGF and bFGF, and regulate angiogenesis. Interstitial expression of SPARC was most prominent in passive Heyman nephritis (PHN), chronic cyclosporine A (CsA) nephropathy, and the remnant kidney model and, to a lesser extent, in angiotensin II (Ang II)-infused animals. SPARC protein and mRNA were substantially increased at sites of tubulointerstitial fibrosis/matrix expansion. In the PHN model, SPARC protein was expressed by interstitial fibroblasts that also produced alpha-smooth muscle actin ("myofibroblasts") and correlated both temporally (r = 0.97) and spatially with sites of type I collagen deposition. Interstitial cell proliferation preceded the development of interstitial fibrosis, and maximal SPARC expression (d15) coincided with the initial decline in interstitial proliferation. In the Ang II-infusion model, which is characterized by arteriolopathy and tubulointerstitial injury, an increase in SPARC protein and mRNA was also seen in injured blood vessels. SPARC was shown to be expressed by vascular smooth muscle cells and also by cells in the adventitia of hypertrophied arteries. In summary, SPARC was transiently expressed by interstitial fibroblasts at sites of tubulointerstitial injury and fibrosis, and by smooth muscle cells and cells in the adventitia of injured arteries in the Ang II-model. In addition to its proposed role in extracellular matrix deposition. the antiproliferative properties of SPARC might contribute to the resolution of interstitial fibroblast proliferation in the PHN model.