Laminins are major components of all basement membranes. They are a diverse group of alpha/beta/gamma heterotrimers formed from five alpha, three beta, and three gamma chains. Laminin alpha5 is a widely expressed chain found in many embryonic and adult basement membranes. During embryogenesis, alpha5 has a role in disparate developmental processes, including neural tube closure, digit septation, and placentation. Here, we analyzed kidney development in Lama5 mutant embryos and found a striking defect in glomerulogenesis associated with an abnormal glomerular basement membrane (GBM). This correlates with failure of the developmental switch in laminin alpha chain deposition in which alpha5 replaces alpha1 in the GBM at the capillary loop stage of glomerulogenesis. In the absence of a normal GBM, glomerular epithelial cells were in disarray, and endothelial and mesangial cells were extruded from within the constricting glomerulus, leading to a complete absence of vascularized glomeruli. In addition, a minority of Lama5 mutant mice lacked one or both kidneys, indicating that laminin alpha5 is also important in earlier kidney development. Our results demonstrate a dual role for laminin alpha5 in kidney development, illustrate a novel defect in glomerulogenesis, and indicate a heretofore unappreciated developmental role for the GBM in influencing the behavior of epithelial and endothelial cells. Copyright 2000 Academic Press.