The effects of antioxidant therapy with probucol were evaluated in rats subjected to 1 h renal ischemia and to 24 h reperfusion. Probucol exerted significant antioxidant effects in renal cortical tubules in vitro when exposed to a catalase-resistant oxidant. At 24 h probucol treatment (IP) improved single nephron glomerular filtration rate (SNGFR) (28.1 +/- 3.3 nl/min) in comparison to untreated ischemic (I) rats (15.2 +/- 3.0), primarily as a result of improving SNGFR in a population of low SNGFR, low flow and/or obstructed nephrons. However, absolute proximal reabsorption remained abnormally low in IP rats at 24 h (5.9 +/- 0.8 nl/min), and cell necrosis was greater than in I rats. Kidney GFR remained low in IP rats due to extensive tubular backleak of inulin measured by microinjection studies. Evaluations after 2 h of reperfusion revealed a higher SNGFR in IP (36 +/- 3.1 nl/min) than I rats (20.8 +/- 2.7 nl/min). Absolute proximal reabsorption was essentially normal (11.6 +/- 1.3 nl/min) in IP rats, which was higher than IP rats at 24 h and the concurrent I rats. Administration of the lipophilic antioxidant, probucol, increased SNGFR and proximal tubular reabsorption within 2 h after ischemic renal failure. Although SNGFR remained higher than I rats at 24 h, absolute reabsorption fell below normal levels and tubular necrosis was more extensive in IP rats. Early improvement in nephron filtration with antioxidants may increase load dependent metabolic demand upon tubules and increase the extent of damage and transport dysfunction.