Osteopontin (OPN) is a secreted phosphoprotein that is constitutively expressed in the normal kidney and is induced by various experimental and pathologic conditions. Several possible functions of OPN have been suggested, however the mechanism and significance of OPN expression are still uncertain. Since high salt concentration or salt crystal have been known to enhance OPN expression in intact kidney or cultured renal cells, in the present study we examined whether or not a low salt condition had an effect on OPN expression in the kidney. Adult male Sprague-Dawley rats were fed either a normal sodium or a sodium deficient diet for 1 week. Kidneys were processed for in situ hybridization using a digoxigenin-labeled riboprobe and for immunohistochemistry using antibodies to OPN, renin, and Na-K-ATPase. In rats fed a normal sodium diet, OPN mRNA and protein were expressed only in the descending thin limbs of Henle's loop (DTL) and in the papillary and pelvic surface epithelium (PSE). In rats fed a sodium deficient diet, there was a marked decrease in OPN immunoreactivity in the DTL, but no changes in PSE. In contrast, no changes were observed in OPN mRNA expression in the DTL by in situ hybridization, indicating that decreased OPN protein expression was a result of translational regulation. As expected, rats fed a sodium deficient diet were associated with increased immunoreactivity for Na-K-ATPase and renin compatible with activation of the renin-angiotensin system. These results suggest that dietary sodium may be involved in the regulation of OPN expression in the DTL of the rat kidney.