To evaluate possible causes of the diminished prostaglandin production in advanced hepatorenal syndrome, prostaglandin endoperoxide synthase and prostacyclin synthase were localized and semiquantitated by immunofluorescence in postmortem, biopsy and nephrectomy renal tissues. In normal kidneys, antiprostacyclin synthase serum caused intense staining in peritubular capillaries, in the adjacent renal interstitial cells and in glomerular mesangial regions. Antiprostaglandin endoperoxide synthase serum caused staining of collecting duct epithelial cells, cells of the thin ascending limb and possibly glomerular mesangial cells. Prostacyclin synthase-positive staining was graded 5+ (scale of 0+ to 5+) in all kidney samples. Medullary collecting tubule prostaglandin endoperoxide synthase-positive staining was graded 4+ or 5+ in kidney samples from patients with acute tubular necrosis or acute tubulointerstitial nephritis and from patients with liver failure without the hepatorenal syndrome. However, prostaglandin endoperoxide synthase-positive staining was markedly diminished or absent (average 1+) in patients with the hepatorenal syndrome. These data suggest that loss of the medullary prostaglandin endoperoxide synthase is the cause of diminished urinary prostaglandin E2 excretion in the hepatorenal syndrome.