Although hyperlipidemia has been associated with the progression of glomerulosclerosis, little attention has been directed toward the use of lipid-lowering agents in altering diabetic nephropathy. We tested the hypothesis that lovastatin and the combination of lovastatin and enalapril would preserve renal function in streptozotocin-induced diabetic Wistar rats. Five groups of animals were studied: group 1, nondiabetic (n = 10); group 2, diabetic, insulin only (n = 12); group 3, lovastatin, (15 mg/kg/day, n = 13); group 4, enalapril, (50 mg/L drinking water, n = 10) and group 5, lovastatin plus enalapril, (n = 14). After 8 weeks of treatment, glomerular filtration rate (GFR, insulin clearance) was measured in anesthetized animals. The diabetic group was characterized by a GFR of 0.18 +/- 0.03 ml/min/g of kidney weight (gKW), a blood glucose level of 441 +/- 36 mg/dL, plasma cholesterol and triglyceride levels of 64 +/- 6.0 and 103 +/- 26.0 mg/dL. Lovastatin preserved GFR, 0.52 +/- 0.06 ml/min/gKW compared with the diabetic control subjects (P < 0.05). Enalapril also maintained GFR (0.42 +/- 0.06 ml/min/gKW, P < 0.05). In the lovastatin plus enalapril group, GFR (0.62 +/- 0.05 ml/min/gKW) was greater than in the enalapril group (P < 0.05), but was not different from the lovastatin group. Plasma lipid levels were not altered in any of the groups. Assessment of the kidneys by histology after treatment showed that the mesangial matrix injury score was better in the lovastatin, enalapril, and lovastatin plus enalapril groups compared with the diabetic group (P < 0.05). Lovastatin, enalapril, and lovastatin plus enalapril abrogated the decline in GFR and glomerular injury in diabetic rats. Lovastatin's direct renal protective effect seems to be independent of its lipid-lowering properties.