Background: Biliary obstruction affects the renal response to ischemia and also elicits a hepatic cytokine response. Using a murine model, we now test the hypothesis that these hepatic cytokines help determine the outcome of ischemic acute renal failure. Methods: C3H/HEN mice were subjected to bile duct ligation 24 h (ABDL) or 7 days (CBDL) prior to induction of acute ischemic renal failure (ARF). Serum creatinine (Scr), cytokine mRNA abundance, and renal histology were studied 24 h after renal ischemia. Results: ABDL prior to ARF resulted in amelioration of renal injury (Scr 0.7 ± 0.1 mg/dl compared to 2.5 ± 0.1 mg/dl in sham/ARF group, (mean ± SE, n = 11/group). CBDL exacerbated renal injury. Increased hepatic mRNA for interleukin-10 (IL10) and interleukin-1 receptor antagonist (IL1RA) was detected in the ABDL/ARF group but not in the CBDL/ARF group. These data suggest that hepatic production of IL10 and IL1RA in response to ABDL ameliorates ischemic ARF, an effect that is lost after several days of BDL. Conclusion: Our data support the concept that hepatic cytokines modulate renal injury. This adds a new dimension in our understanding of renal injury in the setting of hepatic disease.