We examined how the presence of a fixed level of basal renal O2 consumption (Vo2(basal); O2 used for processes independent of Na(+) transport) confounds the utility of the ratio of Na(+) reabsorption (TNa(+)) to total renal Vo2 (Vo2(total)) as an index of the efficiency of O2 utilization for TNa(+). We performed a systematic review and additional experiments in anesthetized rabbits to obtain the best possible estimate of the fractional contribution of Vo2(basal) to Vo2(total) under physiological conditions (basal percent renal Vo2). Estimates of basal percent renal Vo2 from 24 studies varied from 0% to 81.5%. Basal percent renal Vo2 varied with the fractional excretion of Na(+) (FENa(+)) in the 14 studies in which FENa(+) was measured under control conditions. Linear regression analysis predicted a basal percent renal Vo2 of 12.7-16.5% when FENa(+) = 1% (r(2) = 0.48, P = 0.001). Experimentally induced changes in TNa(+) altered TNa(+)/Vo2(total) in a manner consistent with theoretical predictions. We conclude that, because Vo2(basal) represents a significant proportion of Vo2(total), TNa(+)/Vo2(total) can change markedly when TNa(+) itself changes. Therefore, caution should be taken when TNa(+)/Vo2(total) is interpreted as a measure of the efficiency of O2 utilization for TNa(+), particularly under experimental conditions where TNa(+) or Vo2(total) changes.