BACKGROUND Neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) is expressed in skeletal muscle beneath the sarcolemma associated with dystrophin complex. In brain, nNOS is anchored to synaptic membranes by specific postsynaptic density proteins (PSD)-95 and PSD-93. We have investigated the cellular and subcellular localization of these PSD proteins in the kidney and their relationship to nNOS and the cell membrane. METHODS Kidneys from male Sprague-Dawley rats were processed for light and electron microscopic immunohistochemistry with polyclonal antibodies against PSD and nNOS proteins. RESULTS Western blot analysis of rat kidney revealed a specific band for PSD-93 at the molecular weight of 103 kDa. Immunostaining for PSD-93 was located in the thick ascending limb of the loop of Henle, macula densa cells, distal convoluted tubules, cortical collecting ducts, outer and inner medullary collecting duct, glomerular epithelium, and Bowman's capsule. A pre-embedding electron microscopic immunoperoxidase procedure localized PSD-93 to the basolateral membrane of these tubular cells. Using different sized immunogold particles, a portion of nNOS in the macula densa colocalized with PSD-93 adjacent to cytoplasmic vesicles and the basolateral membrane. In contrast, PSD-95 protein was detected only weakly in the cortex by Western blot. Immunostaining for PSD-95 was located only faintly in the apical membrane of the thick ascending limb, macula densa, distal convoluted tubule and cortical collecting duct cells. CONCLUSION PSD-93 is the predominant PSD expressed in the rat kidney. It is located primarily in the basolateral membranes of distal nephron and colocalizes with a pool of nNOS in cytoplasmic vesicles and basolateral membranes of macula densa cells.