We have investigated the effect of caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE) on cisplatin-induced nephrotoxicity in rats. Administration of a single dose of cisplatin resulted in the elevation of blood area nitrogen and creatinine in serum, as well as nitric oxide in kidney tissue of rats. Cisplatin also caused reduction of catalase (P < 0.0001), superoxide dismutase (P = 0.149) and glutathrone peroxidase (P < 0.0001) activities in kidney tissue. Although cisplatin caused elevation in malondialdehyde levels and myeloperoxidase activities in kidney tissue, they were not statistically significant. Caffeic acid phenethyl ester was found to be protective against cisplatin-induced antioxidant enzyme reductions. Treatment with free-radical scavenger CAPE attenuated the increase in plasma blood area nitrogen and kidney nitric oxide levels, and showed histopathological protection against cisplatin-induced acute renal failure. Extensive epithelial cell vacuolization, swelling, desquamation and necrosis were observed in the kidney of the cisplatin-treated rat. There were also larger tubular lumens in cisplatin-treated rats than those of the control and the CAPE groups. Caffeic acid phenethyl ester caused a marked reduction in the extent of tubular damage. It is concluded that administration of cisplatin imposes an oxidative stress to renal tissue and CAPE confers protection against the oxidative damage associated with cisplatin. This mechanism may be attributed to its free-oxygen-radical scavenging activity. Copyright (C) 2004 John Wiley Sons, Ltd.