After the outbreak of acute renal failure associated with melamine-contaminated pet food, many attempts have been made to uncover the mechanism underlying the renal toxicity caused by melamine and melamine-related compounds. Using rat models, we investigated the renal crystal formation following the ingestion of a melamine - cyanuric acid mixture (M+CA, 1:1) to gain insight into the M+CA-induced renal toxicity. M+CA did not induce toxicity in precision-cut kidney slices, suggesting that M+CA does not have a direct nephrotoxicity. On the contrary, oral administration of M+CA for 3 days induced nephrotoxicity as determined by increased serum blood urea nitrogen and creatinine, reduced creatinine clearance, and enlarged kidneys in the animals treated with 50 mg/kg M+CA (melamine, 25 mg/kg, and cyanuric acid, 25 mg/kg; 2 of 10 animals) and 100 mg/kg M+CA (9 of 9 animals). While urine crystals were found in all animals treated with M+CA (25-100 mg/kg), histological examination revealed that renal crystals could be observed only in the kidneys of animals showing signs of nephrotoxicity. Remarkably, at 50 mg/kg M+CA, crystals were observed mainly in the medulla region of the kidney, while at 100 mg/kg, crystals were disseminated throughout the cortex and medulla regions. To further investigate the crystal formation by M+CA, matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization quadrupole time-of-flight (MALDI-Q-TOF) imaging mass spectrometry detecting melamine distribution through monitoring the product ion (m/z 85, M + H) from melamine (m/z 127, M + H) was developed to directly obtain the image of melamine distribution in the kidney. The distribution image of melamine in kidney tissue confirmed that dense points of melamine were located only in the medulla region at 50 mg/kg M+CA, while at 100 mg/kg, they were disseminated widely from the cortex to medulla. These results demonstrated that M+CA ingestion could lead to crystal formation in kidney tubules along the osmotic gradient and that renal crystal formation is closely linked with M+CA-induced nephrotoxicity.