This was a multicenter, open-label, concentration-ranging trial of FK506 and cyclosporine in 120 patients undergoing primary cadaveric kidney transplant. Patients were randomized to a cyclosporine-based regimen or to one of three FK506-based regimens designed to achieve low (5-14 ng/ml), medium (15-25 ng/ml), or high (26-40 ng/ml) trough whole blood levels. Corresponding initial doses of FK506 were 0.2, 0.3, and 0.4 mg/kg/day. Patients were evaluated at 42 days after transplant for the occurrence of the first episode of acute rejection or toxicity, necessitating a dosage reduction. There was no significant difference among the three FK506-based regimens and the cyclosporine-based regimen for rejection or toxicity at 42 days. However, the incidence of acute rejection was significantly lower (14% for FK506 and 32% for cyclosporine; P=0.048) for the aggregate of all FK506- treated patients versus cyclosporine. The incidence of neurotoxic and gastrointestinal events was higher among FK506-treated patients during the first month after transplant. A significant trend was observed for increasing toxicity with increasing maximum trough FK506 concentrations (P=0.01) and for decreasing rates of rejection with increasing minimum trough FK506 concentrations (P=0.021). FK506 was effective in preventing early rejection in kidney transplant recipients. The target range of whole blood levels that optimizes efficacy and minimizes toxicity seems to be 5-15 ng/ml. The corresponding recommended initial dose of FK506 for kidney transplant recipients seems to be 0.2 mg/kg/day.