Increased extracellular fluid volume (ECF) characterizes compensated cirrhosis. To identify the mechanisms of fluid retention in cirrhosis through clearance methods, 10 control and 10 preascitic rats with CCl(4)-induced cirrhosis were studied following i.v. loading with 1 ml 5% glucose solution. Glomerular filtration rate and renal plasma flow were evaluated through inulin and para-aminohippurate clearances; water and electrolyte handling was assessed measuring urine and plasma osmolarity, electrolyte excretions, and tubular solute-free water reabsorption (TFWR = osmolar clearance minus urinary output); ECF was assessed through hormonal status determination. After water loading, cirrhotic rats had increased ECF (lower plasma renin activity and aldosterone and higher atrial natriuretic peptide levels, all Ps loop and collecting duct.