To investigate the mechanism of interstitial inflammation in diabetic nephropathy, we used spontaneously diabetic KKAy mice. Twelve KKAy mice were divided into two groups; six mice were fed standard mouse chow ad libitum and six mice were placed on a diet (i.e. they received the same amount of chow as six control C57BL mice). Diabetic KKAy mice developed hypercholesterolemia and albuminuria. Animals were killed at 16 weeks of age and renal tissues were immunostained for vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1). In diabetic KKAy mice, the renal interstitium was infiltrated by monocytes, lymphocytes, plasma cells, and other cells. The walls of venules near the infiltrating cells were more intensely stained for VCAM-1 when compared with other sites. In contrast, the VCAM-1 staining of arterioles and peritubular capillaries was not significantly increased. There was weak VCAM-1 staining of the infiltrating cells, including lymphocytes, monocytes, and other cells. Electron microscopy demonstrated immunolabeling for VCAM-1 on the cell surface and in the cytoplasm of both infiltrating cells and vascular endothelial cells. In KKAy mice placed on a diet, there was less staining for VCAM-1 and cellular infiltration was also decreased. Thus, increased expression of VCAM-1 by the endothelial cells of venules and VCAM-1 expression by infiltrating cells were demonstrated in the interstitium of kidneys from diabetic mice. These results suggest that increased expression of VCAM-1 by endothelial cells and infiltrating cells contributes to interstitial inflammation in diabetic nephropathy.