In this study, 52 nonproteinuric Japanese patients with non-insulin-dependent diabetes (NIDDM) were followed from 1985 to 1990 to investigate the rate of development and progression of microalbuminuria and the factors which influence it. In 1985, 34 patients were normoalbuminuric, and 18 patients were microalbuminuric. Five years later, 11 of 34 initially normoalbuminuric patients (32.4%) developed microalbuminuria, and 6 of 18 initially microalbuminuric patients (33.3%) developed overt proteinuria. At the beginning of the study, hypertension existed more frequently in the patients who later developed microalbuminuria (8 of 11, 72.7%) than in the patients who stayed normoalbuminuric (4 of 23, 17.4%). Age-adjusted values of mean blood pressure (+/- SEM) at the beginning of the study in the patients who developed microalbuminuria (98.2 +/- 3.4 mm Hg, n = 11) were significantly higher than those in the patients who stayed normoalbuminuric (87.3 +/- 2.4 mm Hg, n = 23). In six patients who developed overt proteinuria, initial urinary albumin excretion rates (AER) were higher than those in the patients who stayed microalbuminuric, and four patients who presented with initial AER greater than 100 micrograms/min all developed overt proteinuria. These results indicate that, in Japanese patients with NIDDM, the rate of development of microalbuminuria is faster than that reported in Caucasian IDDM, and preexisting hypertension with relatively poor control of blood pressure may be a risk factor for the development of microalbuminuria.