The podocyte has diverse functions including glomerular filtration, biosynthesis and maintenance of the glomerular capillary architecture. It discharges these functions by virtue of a unique morphology, an intimate relationship with the capillary wall, and diverse synthetic and membrane specializations. Despite the complex role that it plays in glomerular function, the clinical manifestations of podocyte dysfunction are limited to proteinuria and renal insufficiency. Recurrent focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) in renal transplants provides a unique opportunity to study the pathogenesis of FSGS in human beings, because the patients are monitored carefully to identify the onset of disease, the recurrence is presumed to have the same etiology as the primary disease, renal biopsy is a tool to study the pathogenesis of the lesion, and therapeutic intervention provides a mechanism to test pathogenesis. Pathologic studies have identified a proliferative lesion of the podocytes as the first sign of recurrent disease. The glomerular lesions evolve to form segmental glomerular scars with time. These findings and studies in experimental models of FSGS implicate podocyte injury in the pathogenesis of the recurrent disease. The cellular lesion (similar to the proliferative lesion of podocytes in recurrent FSGS), seen early in the course of primary FSGS suggests that the pathogenic sequence in recurrent FSGS also applies to primary FSGS. A soluble circulating factor that increases glomerular permeability and correlates with recurrence of FSGS has been identified in the pretransplant serum of patients with end-stage FSGS, but the mechanism of podocyte injury by this factor remains speculative. In any case, podocytes in the cellular lesion undergo morphologic changes and lose specialized functions seen in the normal mature cell, and these structural and functional abnormalities cause the permeability changes associated with proteinuria and destruction of glomerular filtration surface by scarring associated with loss of glomerular function.