P-glycoprotein (P-gp) expels hydrophobic substances from the cell, including chemotherapeutic agents and immunosuppressants such as cyclosporin A (CsA) and FK506. Exposure of cultured renal tubular cells to CsA induces P-gp overexpression in cell membranes. Angiotensin II has recently been implicated as the principal factor responsible for progression of interstitial fibrosis induced by CsA. To investigate the in vivo relationships between histological lesions, P-gp overexpression, and intrarenal angiotensin II deposits, we developed a model of chronic CsA toxicity in Sprague-Dawley rats treated with 25 mg/kg/day CsA for 28 and 56 days and fed either a standard maintenance diet or a low-salt diet. Immunohistochemical methods were used to study the expression of P-gp in renal tubular cells and the appearance of intrarenal angiotensin II deposits. Rats treated with CsA developed chronic nephrotoxicity lesions that were more evident in the group fed the low-salt diet. Treatment with CsA induced overexpression of P-gp in tubular cells of the kidney that increased with time. We found that immunohistochemical expression of P-gp was slightly more severe in rats fed a low-salt diet. Intrarenal deposits of angiotensin II were more evident in rats treated with CsA; these deposits also increased with time. This finding was also more relevant in rats given the low-salt diet. The up-regulation of P-gp was inversely related to the incidence of hyaline arteriopathy (r = -0.65; P < 0.05), periglomerular (r = -0.58; P < 0.05) and peritubular fibrosis (r = -0.63; P < 0.05), and intrarenal angiotensin H deposits in animals with severe signs of nephrotoxicity (r = -0.65; P < 0.05). These results support the hypothesis that the role of P-gp as a detoxicant in renal cells may be related to mechanisms that control the cytoplasmic removal of both toxic metabolites from CsA and those originating from the catabolism of signal transduction proteins (methylcysteine esters), which are produced as a result of ras activation in presence of angiotensin II.