Acute hypothermia has a major impact on cardiovascular control and renal function, but the extent to which these can be correlated with and influenced by changes in the altered pattern of sympathetic outflow to the kidneys is unclear. Moreover, it is unknown whether these responses to acute hypothermia are altered by chronic cold exposure and this study aimed to examine these factors. Renal function and renal sympathetic nerve activity (RSNA) were measured in male Wistar rats, euthermic (control) or acclimatized (exposed to progressively lower environmental temperature and photoperiod over 8 weeks), anaesthetized with chloralose/urethane. Reduction of core temperature (Tc) to 25 degrees C caused approximately 40% reduction in heart rate (HR), approximately 10% fall in mean arterial blood pressure (MABP), and decreased glomerular filtration rate (GFR) by approximately 50% and approximately 5% in euthermic and acclimatized rats, respectively. At 25 degrees C, urine flow increased some two-fold and absolute and fractional sodium excretions by 4- to 6-fold in the euthermic rats and to a lesser extent in the cold acclimatized rats, while basal levels of fluid excretion were higher in the acclimatized rats. A loss of pulsatility in the RSNA signal with cooling was seen in both groups. One of the factors contributing to modest hypotension during acute hypothermia is a reduction in RSNA. There was a progressive fall in the proportion of RSNA power at HR frequency with cooling of 20% in euthermic and 80% in acclimatized rats. All variables were restored to basal levels on rewarming in both groups of rats. We conclude that natriuresis and diuresis in euthermic rats during hypothermia is a consequence of a reduction in nephron reabsorption, reduced urine osmolality and possibly altered patterning of RSNA. In acclimatized rats, the response was modified by altered renal haemodynamics and/or hormonal influences induced by chronic cold exposure to minimize the hypothermic stress on renal function.