Hyperoxaluria is a well-known cause of renal stone disease and in vitro studies have shown that oxalate crystals have a stimulatory effect on apoptosis of renal tubular epithelial cells. Total and partial ureteral obstruction also have an accelerating effect on apoptosis of renal tubular epithelial cells. The aim of the present study was to investigate the apoptotic effect of unilateral ureteral obstruction in the presence of hyperoxaluria on the rat kidney. Twenty-eight male Wistar rats were divided into four groups, with seven rats in each. The groups were named G1 (control), G2 (hyperoxaluric), G3 (obstructive) and G4(hyperoxaluric + obstructive). G2 and G4 rats were given 1% ethylene glycol (a precursor for oxalates) in their drinking water. G1 and G2 rats underwent sham operation, while left proximal ureteral ligation with a 5-zero silk suture was performed on G3 and G4 animals. The rats were sacrificed 2 weeks after the operation; left nephrectomy was then performed. We searched for the apoptotic cells by direct immuno-peroxidase detection of digoxigenin-labeled genomic DNA. The mean +/- SD values of the apoptotic cell count was 0.86 +/- 0.90 in G1 and 4.33 +/- 3.81 in G2. The values for G3 and G4 were 30.17 +/- 16.85 and 302.67 +/- 184.45, respectively. We found a statistically significant difference between all groups (P < 0.001). When compared with the control group (G1), the mean apoptotic cell count was fivefold that of G2 and 35- and 351-fold those of G3 and G4, respectively. Our study demonstrated that hyperoxaluria with complete ureteral obstruction induces an excessive level of apoptosis, which is responsible for renal damage, and that ureteral obstruction is a more important factor for apoptosis than hyperoxaluria. Considering these data, we also believe that research studies for medical preventive measures must be considered for patients with ureteral obstruction and/or hyperoxaluria.