Despite the improvement in survival of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and associated nephritis in the past 20 years, few studies of the long-term outcome of large cohorts of patients with well-defined histological classes of lupus nephropathy are available. We examined the long-term outcome of 183 patients with lupus nephritis (LN) followed up by the Division of Rheumatology at Queen Mary Hospital (Hong Kong) between 1976 and 1997. Their renal biopsies were classified according to World Health Organization (WHO) criteria. There were 27 men and 156 women. Initial renal biopsy showed the following WHO classes of LN: 2 patients (1%), class I; 9 patients (5%), class II; 46 patients (25%), class III; 101 patients (55%), class IV; and 25 patients (14%), class V. The mean duration of follow-up from the renal biopsy was 130.7 +/- 5.9 months (range, 13 to 260 months). The overall 5-, 10-, and 15-year survival and renal survival (survival without dialysis) rates were 98.9%, 94.4%, and 94.4% and 92.1%, 81.2%, and 75.2%, respectively. Univariate analysis showed class IV nephritis, hypertension, impaired renal function (glomerular filtration rate < 50 mL/min), nephrotic syndrome at time of renal biopsy, and failure of complete remission in the first year of treatment were unfavorable predictors for renal survival. Multivariate analysis using the Cox regression model also showed persistent hypertension, class IV nephritis, and incomplete renal remission in the first year were independent risk factors for renal failure. Our results showed the renal survival rate of our patients from South China with LN was similar to that of most reported series of white patients. Prospective randomized studies with well-defined treatment protocols are needed to delineate the optimal treatment strategy for LN.