Rats with significant proteinuria induced by daily injections of bovine serum albumin develop interstitial inflammation and fibrosis. The present study was designed to investigate the molecular basis of interstitial monocyte (Mø) recruitment and early interstitial fibrosis. Groups of rats were sacrificed after one, two and three weeks. Despite an increase in interstitial Mø at week 1, whole kidney mRNA levels were not elevated for monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1), osteopontin or vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1). Only osteopontin mRNA levels were significantly elevated in the renal cortex at four days. At two and three weeks, MCP-1 and osteopontin mRNA levels were increased and the proteins showed distinct tubular patterns of distribution. By immunostaining increased expression of VCAM-1 and intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) was restricted to their presence or the surface of the interstitial inflammatory cells. TGF-beta 1 mRNA levels were increased at weeks 1, 2 and 3 (2.1, 2.9, 3.6x); interstitial and occasional cortical tubular cells expressed TGF-beta 1 mRNA and protein. There was a progressive rise in the number of cortical interstitial fields with increased staining for collagen (col) 1 (18, 29, 44%), col III (39, 61, 63%), col IV (7, 13, 29%), laminin (4, 10, 30%), fibronectin (14, 28, 37%), tenascin (19, 22, 14%) and in total renal col measured biochemically (1.1, 1.4, 2.0x) at weeks 1, 2 and 3, respectively. Renal matrix protein mRNA levels were variable and not always predictive of fibrosis. Only col I and tenascin levels were increased at week 1; all matrix protein mRNA levels except col IV were increased at week 2; but only tenascin, laminin and col IV mRNA levels remained elevated at three weeks. Plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1) and tissue inhibitor of metallo-proteinases (TIMP)-1 mRNA levels were significantly increased at two weeks. During the three weeks there was no change in urokinase, stromelysin or TIMP-3 mRNA levels. These results suggest that both increased matrix protein synthesis and altered matrix remodeling/degradation contribute to the final interstitial fibrogenic process in rats with protein-overload proteinuria. Mø, one of the sources of TGF-beta 1, infiltrate the interstitium by complex recruitment mechanisms which may depend in part on osteopontin, ICAM-1 and VCAM-1 expression.