Diabetic patients who develop proteinuria show a marked increase in cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. The precise pathogenesis of human diabetic kidney disease and the factors responsible for the susceptibility to it remain, in part, obscure. However, there is now evidence that renal disease clusters in families and that genetic factors may be of central importance in determining susceptibility. Predisposition to arterial hypertension has been suggested as playing a contributory role in the development of kidney disease. Hypertrophic processes may be implicated in the susceptibility to arterial wall damage and glomerular injury in diabetes. Interestingly, fibroblasts of patients with diabetic nephropathy show a higher Na<sup>+</sup>/ H<sup>+</sup> antiport activity and a greater <sup>3</sup>H-thymidine incorporation into DNA than fibroblasts of diabetic patients without nephropathy. The first clinical signs of renal involvement are the appearance of microalbuminuria and a small elevation in arterial pressure. Mesangial expansion accompanies these changes. Microalbuminuria is associated with abnormalities of lipoprotein profiles and higher Na<sup>+</sup>/Li<sup>+</sup> countertransport rates. The environmental changes brought about by diabetes could lead in susceptible individuals to increased systemic and intraglomerular pressures on the one hand and to mesangial expansion on the other. These two processes would cause proteinuria and glomerulosclerosis. Lipid abnormalities may further aggravate the renal histological damage and, in combination with hypertension, contribute to the accelerated atherosclerosis typical of patients with diabetic kidney disease. A vicious circle would thus be triggered, involving reduction in renal function, further hypertension, proteinuria, glomerular obsolence and hyperlipidaemia, and eventually end-stage renal failure or premature cardiovascular death.