The therapeutic benefits of allopurinol pretreatment in renal ischaemia-reperfusion injury were investigated by monitoring renal malondialdehyde (MDA) and ATP levels together with calculated MDA/ATP ratio in ischaemic (45 min) and reperfused (15 min) rat kidneys, MDA levels remained unchanged during ischaemia, but increased after the subsequent reperfusion. ATP content of the ischaemic kidney was decreased significantly and the recovery of ATP was incomplete after the reperfusion, whereas the MDA/ATP ratio increased at both periods. Allopurinol pretreatment (40 mg kg(-1) iv) maintained higher ATP levels during the ischaemia and inhibited the MDA formation during the reperfusion and decreased the MDA/ATP ratio at both periods. Our findings demonstrate that allopurinol exerts a biphasic protective action by preserving tissue ATP and by inhibiting lipid peroxidation during ischaemia and the reperfusion period, respectively. These findings suggest the selective involvement of two protective mechanisms in the different periods of renal ischaemia-reperfusion injury. The MDA/ATP ratio could be a useful parameter for monitoring these protective actions of allopurinol simultaneously. Copyright (C) 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.