Thirteen-week and one-year toxicity studies of methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) administered in drinking water to Wistar rats were conducted. Male and female rats were exposed to MTBE in drinking water at 0.5, 3, 7.5 and 15 mg ml(-1) for 13 weeks and at 0.5, 3 and 7.5 (males) or 0.5, 3 and 15 mg ml(-1) (females) for 1 year. Body weights were reduced only in males following 13 weeks of exposure. Reduced water consumption and urine output were observed in males and females exposed to MTBE. Kidney cell replication and α(2u)-globulin levels in males were increased at 1 and 4 weeks of MTBE exposure and tubular cell regeneration was increased in male kidneys exposed to MTBE concentrations of 7.5 mg ml(-1) or greater for 13 weeks. Wet weights of male kidneys were increased following 13 weeks, 6 months and 1 year of exposure to MTBE concentrations of 7.5 mg ml(-1) or greater. Kidney wet weights were increased in females at MTBE concentrations of 15 mg ml(-1) for 13 weeks. Tertiary-butyl alcohol blood levels increased linearly with dose in males and females following 1 year of exposure. Chronic progressive nephropathy (CPN), of minimal to mild severity, increased in males, but not females, with 1 year of MTBE exposure. In summary, exposure of Wistar rats to MTBE in the drinking water resulted in minimal exposure-related effects including limited renal changes in male rats suggestive of α(2u)-globulin nephropathy following 13 weeks of exposure and an exacerbation of CPN in males at the end of 1 year of exposure.