The renal effects of incremental infusions of norepinephrine (placebo, 0.025 mu/kg/min), 0.075 micrograms/kg/min, phenylephrine (placebo, 0.5 micrograms/kg/min, 2.5 micrograms/kg/min), and tyramine (placebo, 2 micrograms/kg/min, 15 micrograms/kg/min) were examined in three respective groups (n = 9, 8, and 8) of normotensive male subjects undergoing water diuresis. Tyramine is an indirect sympathetic agent that causes neuronal release of endogenous norepinephrine. Increases in mean arterial pressure during each high-dose infusion were comparable in all three groups. Both norepinephrine and phenylephrine caused a decrease in urinary sodium excretion and effective renal plasma flow, with no changes in glomerular filtration rate. Proximal tubular sodium reabsorption, as assessed by both lithium clearance and solute-free water clearance methods, was increased by pressor doses of norepinephrine and phenylephrine. In contrast, a similar pressor dose of tyramine was associated with a pressure natriuresis, an increase in effective renal plasma flow, and a decrease in proximal tubular sodium reabsorption. Our data indicate that, in normotensive humans, circulating catecholamines (norepinephrine and phenylephrine) have opposite effects on renal sodium handling from neuronally released norepinephrine (tyramine).