BACKGROUND: Accumulation of larger molecular weight uraemic toxins molecules may have a negative effect on the cardiovascular and nutritional state of dialysis patients and influence uraemic symptomatology. Their clearance can be enhanced by the use of haemofiltration (HF). METHODS: The effects of low-flux haemodialysis (HD) (ultrapure dialysate; polyamide membranes) and pre-dilution on-line HF (1:1 blood/substitution ratio; target filtration volume: 1.2 times body weight) on cardiovascular and nutritional parameters, interdialytic levels of uraemic toxins and quality of life (QOL; Laupacis questionnaire) were assessed during 1 year follow-up. Forty patients were randomized. RESULTS: After 1 year, 27 patients were eligible for analysis (HF: 13 patients; HD: 14 patients). Left ventricular mass index did not change in the HF patients (127+/-33 --> 131+/-36 g/m(2) after 12 months) or in the HD group (135+/-34 --> 138+/-32 g/m(2)). Also, there were no changes in pulse wave velocity, and 48 h systolic and diastolic blood pressures. Lean body mass, assessed by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, increased in the HF group (44.8+/-8.9 --> 46.2+/-9.6 kg; P<0.05), but not in the HD group (49.4+/-9.2 --> 50.6+/-8.8 kg), although differences between groups were not significant. Insulin-like growth factor-1 levels remained stable in the HF patients, but decreased in the HD group (P<0.05 between groups). QOL for physical symptoms improved in the HF group (4.2+/-1.2 --> 5.0+/-1.1; P<0.05 within the HF group and P = 0.06 between groups), but not in the HD group (4.0+/-1.0 --> 4.4+/-1.4). beta2-microglobulin, complement factor D and homocysteine decreased significantly in the HF but not in the HD group, whereas l-ADMA, leptin and advanced glycation end-products-related fluorescence did not change. CONCLUSIONS: No changes in cardiovascular parameters were observed during pre-dilution on-line HF compared with low-flux HD. Treatment with on-line HF resulted in marked changes in the uraemic toxicity profile, an improvement in physical well-being and a small improvement in nutritional state.