The proximal tubule undergoes hypertrophy in response to loss of functioning renal mass and hyperplasia following injury by ischemia or nephrotoxins. Both hypertrophic growth and cell proliferation are characterized by increases in the rate of protein synthesis. To investigate regulation of protein synthesis in mammalian proximal tubule cells, potential peptide mediators of proximal tubule growth, epidermal growth factor (EGF) and angiotensin II, were studied in cultured rabbit proximal tubule cells. Although only EGF stimulated DNA synthesis, both agonists stimulated protein synthesis. One potential regulatory mechanism of eukaryotic protein synthesis involves phosphorylation of ribosomal protein S6 by activation of a specific serine/threonine kinase (S6 kinase). Both EGF and angiotensin II stimulated S6 kinase activity and S6 phosphorylation. Phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate was also found to activate S6 kinase, and 24 h of pretreatment to deplete protein kinase C inhibited subsequent S6 kinase activation by a high concentration (10(-6) M) of angiotensin II. To determine whether S6 kinase was also activated in the kidney in vivo, S6 kinase activity was examined after ablation of renal mass. Within 1 h after contralateral nephrectomy, S6 kinase activity increased in rat renal cortex. In summary, both EGF and angiotensin II stimulated protein synthesis and S6 kinase activity in cultured proximal tubule cells, and S6 kinase activity also increased in renal cortex after contralateral nephrectomy.