The toxicity of gentamicin (GEN) in the kidney seems to relate to the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE) has been demonstrated to have antioxidant, free radical scavenger and anti-inflammatory effects. It has been proposed that antioxidant maintain the concentration of reduced glutathione (GSH) may restore the cellular defense mechanisms and block lipid peroxidation thus protect against the toxicity of wide variety of nephrotoxic chemicals. We investigated the effects of CAPE on GEN-induced changes in renal malondialdehyde (MDA), a lipid peroxidation product, nitric oxide (NO) generation, superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT) activities, GSH content, blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and serum creatinine (Cr) levels. Morphological changes in the kidney were also examined. A total of 32 rats were equally divided into four groups which were: (1) control, (2) injected with intraperitoneally (i.p.) GEN, (3) injected with i.p. GEN + CAPE and (4) injected with i.p. CAPE. GEN administration to control rats increased renal MDA and NO generation but decreased SOD and CAT activities, and GSH content. CAPE administration with GEN injections caused significantly decreased MDA, NO generation and increased SOD, CAT activities and GSH content when compared with GEN alone. Serum level of BUN and Cr significantly increased as a result of nephrotoxicity. CAPE also, significantly decreased serum BUN and Cr levels. Morphological changes in the kidney due to GEN, including tubular necrosis, were evaluated qualitatively. In addition, CAPE reduced the degree of kidney tissue damage induced by GEN. Both biochemical findings and histopathological evidence showed that administration of CAPE reduced the GEN-induced kidney damage. Our results indicated that CAPE acts in the kidney as a potent scavenger of free radicals to prevent the toxic effects of GEN both at the biochemical and histological level. Thus, CAPE could be effectively combined with GEN treatment. © 2004 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.