Coadministration of polyaspartic acid protects rats against aminoglycoside-induced nephrotoxicity, with respect to functional and pathological changes as well as to early signs of renal alterations (lysosomal phospholipidosis of proximal tubular cells, increased proliferation of proximal tubular and peritubular cells), without reduction, but actually by increasing the drug cortical content (Williams et al., J. Pharmacol. Exp. Ther. 237: 919, 1986; Gilbert et al., J. Infect. Dis. 159: 945, 1989; Beauchamp et al., 1990). Because aminoglycoside accumulation in kidney cortex involves their segregation in lysosomes, we have examined the possibility of formation of intracellular aminoglycoside-polyaspartic acid complexes that would render the drug less toxic. We found that in vitro polyaspartic acid (MW 9-15,000) 1) binds gentamicin with an optimum at acidic pH (5.4), 2) displaces it from negatively charged liposomes and 3) restores the activity of gentamicin-inhibited lysosomal phospholipase A1 toward phosphatidylcholine included in negatively charged liposomes. In parallel, we also observed that at pH 7.0, polyaspartic acid binds and displaces gentamicin from purified brush-border membrane vesicles, causing an apparent decrease of affinity of gentamicin for these membranes, which was falsely interpreted by Williams et al., J. Pharmacol. Exp. Ther. 237: 919, 1986 as "competition for a common membrane binding site." Assuming that, after its administration in vivo, polyaspartic acid gains access to lysosomes of proximal tubular cells, as many low molecular weight proteins and polypeptides do, our results suggest that protection against gentamicin-induced nephrotoxicity is obtained by the binding of the aminoglycoside to the polyanion in lysosomes, preventing thereby the development of phospholipidosis and therefore interfering with the cascade of events leading from drug accumulation to nephrotoxicity.