The molecular nature of the glomerular slit diaphragm, the site of renal ultrafiltration, has until recently remained a mystery. However, the identification of the gene affected in congenital nephrotic syndrome has revealed the presence of a novel protein, possibly specific for the slit diaphragm. This protein, which has been termed nephrin, is a transmembrane protein that probably forms the main building block of an isoporous zipper-like slit diaphragm filter structure. Defects in nephrin lead to abnormal or absent slit diaphragm leading to massive proteinuria and renal failure. The discovery of nephrin sheds new light on the glomerular filtration barrier, provides new insight into the pathomechanisms of proteinuria, and even opens up possibilities for the development of novel therapies for this common and severe kidney complication.