Pulse cyclophosphamide is more effective than prednisone alone in preventing renal failure in lupus nephritis. We undertook a randomised, controlled trial to find out whether pulse methylprednisolone could equal pulse cyclophosphamide in preserving renal function in patients with lupus nephritis, and whether there was a difference between long and short courses of pulse cyclophosphamide in preventing exacerbations. 65 patients (60 female, 5 male; median [range] age 29 [10-48] years) with severe lupus nephritis were assigned randomly to monthly pulse methylprednisolone for 6 months (25 patients), monthly pulse cyclophosphamide for 6 months (20), or monthly cyclophosphamide for 6 months followed by quarterly pulse cyclophosphamide for 2 additional years (20). Patients treated with pulse methylprednisolone had a higher probability of doubling serum creatinine than those treated with long-course cyclophosphamide (p less than 0.04). Risk of doubling creatinine was not significantly different between short and long course cyclophosphamide. However, patients treated with short-course cyclophosphamide had a higher probability of exacerbations than those treated with long-course cyclophosphamide (p less than 0.01). An extended course of pulse cyclophosphamide is more effective than 6 months of pulse methylprednisolone in preserving renal function in patients with severe lupus nephritis. Addition of a quarterly maintenance regimen to monthly pulse cyclophosphamide reduces the rate of exacerbations.