Renal handling, metabolism and effects on kidney function of naproxen and its l-enantiomer were examined in the isolated perfused rat kidney (IPK). Urinary excretion rate of naproxen was much lower than the filtration rate, indicating extensive reabsorption. Naproxen is accumulated considerably in the IPK. This accumulation is concentration-dependent and is probably the result of active secretion of naproxen. Considerable amounts of desmethyl-naproxen were formed in the IPK. The kinetic behavior of the l-enantiomer of naproxen did not differ from naproxen. Addition of 37.5 to 3750 micrograms naproxen caused a decrease in urinary flow, glomerular filtration rate and fractional excretion of sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium and calcium. The presence of prostaglandin E2 in the perfusate fully opposed the effects of naproxen on kidney function. Addition of 375 micrograms l-enantiomer of naproxen did not influence kidney function. Addition of very high doses (1 x 10(5) micrograms) of naproxen and its l-enantiomer to the IPK caused diuresis and increased the fractional excretion of sodium, chloride, potassium, glucose and calcium. We conclude that the pharmacokinetic behavior and the metabolism of naproxen in the IPK is probably not stereoselective; that relatively low doses of naproxen exert a specific, stereoselective effect on kidney function caused by inhibition of the prostaglandin E2 synthesis and that high doses of naproxen exert a nonstereoselective effect on kidney function.