This study examined whether there is increased production of oxygen free radicals during chronic renal failure. Rats subjected to 3/4 nephrectomy and sham operated controls were killed after 3 weeks. Lipid extracts of plasma and renal tissue were examined by HPLC and kidney specimens were also analyzed by EPR spectroscopy. The redox capacity of blood was assessed using nitroblue tetrazolium and plasma ascorbate levels were measured with HPLC. There was no detectable renal production of oxygen free radicals in rats with chronic renal failure. Kidney parenchymal content of other oxidants and the oxidant:reductant ratio were similar in control and uremic animals. The plasma redox capacity and ascorbate levels were elevated in uremic rats. We conclude that early in the course of chronic renal failure, there is not excessive production of oxygen free radicals. There is accumulation of reductants, primarily ascorbate, in the plasma of uremic animals.