Puberty accelerates microvascular complications of diabetes mellitus, including nephropathy. Animal studies confirm a different renal hypertrophic response to diabetes before and after puberty, probably due to differences in the production of transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta). Many of the complex physiological changes during puberty could affect potentially pathogenic mechanisms of diabetic kidney disease. Increased blood pressure, activation of the growth hormone-insulin-like growth factor I axis, and production of sex steroids could all play a role in pubertal susceptibility to diabetic renal hypertrophy and nephropathy. These factors may influence the effects of hyperglycemia and several systems that ultimately control TGF-beta production, including the renin-angiotensin system, cellular redox systems, the polyol pathway, and protein kinase C. These phenomena may also explain gender differences in kidney function and incidence of end-stage renal disease. Normal changes during puberty, when coupled with diabetes and superimposed on a genetically susceptible milieu, are capable of accelerating diabetic hypertrophy and microvascular lesions. A better understanding of these processes may lead to new treatments to prevent renal failure in diabetes mellitus.