Background MicroRNAs have recently been verified as useful diagnostic biomarkers in various diseases. In this study, we investigated whether miR-217 is a useful diagnostic biomarker and the possible pathological mechanism of miR-217 in this disease. Methods Patients with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), membranous nephropathy (MN), and diabetic nephropathy (DN) and control patients were enrolled in this study. The miR-217 inhibitor and mimics were transfected into human podocyte cells to investigate the pathological mechanism of miR-217 in this disease. Relevant indicators were detected and tested. Results Compared with control patients, miR-217 was significantly downregulated and TNFSF11 was significantly upregulated in MN. Then, miR-217 had obvious separation between patients with MN and control patients, with an AUC of 0.941, a cutoff value of <750.0 copies/ul, and sensitivity and specificity of 88.9% and 75.9%. In addition, the TNFSF11 was confirmed to be the target gene of miR-217. Finally, in in vitro experiments, the upregulation of miR-217 could decrease the expression of TNFSF11 and not induce human podocyte cells apoptosis; however, the downregulation of miR-217 could bring about an opposite change. Conclusions miR-217 is a useful diagnostic biomarker and is involved in human podocyte cells apoptosis via targeting TNFSF11 in membranous nephropathy.