The aim of this study was to examine the relationship between serum immunoglobulin A (IgA) levels and diabetic nephropathy in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus, and to describe the role of IgA nephropathy superimposed on diabetes mellitus. A total of 127 type 2 diabetic patients were studied. Of these diabetics, 74 had no proteinuria, 35 had diabetic glomerulosclerosis confirmed by renal biopsy, 13 had superimposed IgA nephropathy, and five had superimposed non-IgA nephropathy. We also studied 93 non-diabetic patients with IgA nephropathy, 24 non-diabetic patients with non-IgA nephropathy, and 38 non-diabetic controls. Serum IgA levels were significantly higher in IgA nephropathy patients (350+/-130 mg/dl) than in non-diabetic controls (228+/-56 mg/dl) and diabetics without proteinuria (268+/-104 mg/dl). Serum IgA levels were also significantly higher in diabetics with superimposed IgA nephropathy (470+/-208 mg/dl) than in non-diabetic controls, non-IgA nephropathy patients (270+/-133 mg/dl), diabetics without proteinuria, diabetic glomerulosclerosis alone (302+/-126 mg/dl), and diabetics with superimposed non-IgA nephropathy (248+/-137 mg/dl). The prevalence of high serum IgA levels was significantly higher in diabetics with superimposed IgA nephropathy (76.9%) than in diabetic glomerulosclerosis alone (31.4%) and diabetics with superimposed non-IgA nephropathy (25.0%). In conclusion, our findings indicate that high serum IgA level is a sign of the existence of IgA nephropathy superimposed on diabetes mellitus.