Functioning nephron mass has recently been implicated as a risk factor for development of chronic "rejection" of kidney allografts. Reductions in nephron number below 50% may induce glomerular hypertension and hyperfiltration in surviving units, which in turn lead to graft injury. In the present study, which extends and amplifies our previous investigations, cellular and molecular characteristics of single allografts from F344 donors in bilaterally nephrectomized LEW recipients, our standard experimental model of chronic renal allograft dysfunction, were compared with allografts from recipients where total renal mass was reduced (by ligating branches of the graft renal artery) or restored to normal levels by transplanting or retaining a second kidney. Our findings in this study confirm that progressive proteinuria and structural injury in recipients of single allografts were accentuated in grafts with reduced mass but virtually absent in rats with increased kidney mass. A striking observation was that patterns of cell surface molecule expression, cellular infiltration, and expression of all T cell- and macrophage-associated products studied were all markedly modulated by changes in renal mass. Moreover, several molecules that are up-regulated before evidence of graft injury are down-regulated by providing increased renal mass. These data show that the quantity of functioning renal mass is not only an important independent determinant of the tempo and intensity of chronic renal allograft failure, but also a potent modulator of fundamental cellular and molecular components of a complex process. This phenomenon involves antigen-dependent and antigen-independent elements that ultimately result in chronic allograft failure.