In a mathematical model of the urine concentrating mechanism of the inner medulla of the rat kidney, a nonlinear optimization technique was used to estimate parameter sets that maximize the urine-to-plasma osmolality ratio (U/P) while maintaining the urine flow rate within a plausible physiologic range. The model, which used a central core formulation, represented loops of Henle turning at all levels of the inner medulla and a composite collecting duct (CD). The parameters varied were: water flow and urea concentration in tubular fluid entering the descending thin limbs and the composite CD at the outer-inner medullary boundary; scaling factors for the number of loops of Henle and CDs as a function of medullary depth; location and increase rate of the urea permeability profile along the CD; and a scaling factor for the maximum rate of NaCl transport from the CD. The optimization algorithm sought to maximize a quantity E that equaled U/P minus a penalty function for insufficient urine flow. Maxima of E were sought by changing parameter values in the direction in parameter space in which E increased. The algorithm attained a maximum E that increased urine osmolality and inner medullary concentrating capability by 37.5% and 80.2%, respectively, above base-case values; the corresponding urine flow rate and the concentrations of NaCl and urea were all within or near reported experimental ranges. Our results predict that urine osmolality is particularly sensitive to three parameters: the urea concentration in tubular fluid entering the CD at the outer-inner medullary boundary, the location and increase rate of the urea permeability profile along the CD, and the rate of decrease of the CD population (and thus of CD surface area) along the cortico-medullary axis. © 2009 Society for Mathematical Biology.