Idiopathic focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) is a common cause of nephrotic syndrome in pediatric and adult patients. Most children with FSGS do not respond to any form of therapy and progress to end-stage renal disease (ESRD). FSGS reoccurs in the transplanted kidney in approximately one third of initial transplants and in a substantially higher percentage of subsequent transplants once FSGS has recurred in an earlier transplant. Thus, FSGS is a disease with substantial morbidity. Over the past several years, the incidence of FSGS in adults and children appears to be increasing, particularly in certain racial groups and ethnic populations. Several recent studies in adult and pediatric patients suggest that the incidence of FSGS is increasing particularly in the black population. In addition, some studies have also demonstrated a more rapid progression of FSGS to ESRD in black patients compared to other ethnic groups. Racial and ethnic background is likely to have a substantial influence on the incidence and progression of FSGS in children and adults. It is likely that specific genes or a combination of genes influence the different clinical manifestations of FSGS in racial and ethnic groups. Genetic mutations in NPHS1 gene, which encodes nephrin, have been found to cause congenital nephrotic syndrome. Genetic mutations in the NPHS2 gene, which encodes podocin, recently have been shown to be strongly associated with a recessive form of steroid-resistant nephrotic syndrome. Mutations in the ACTN4 gene that encodes actinin 4 has also been associated with familial nephrotic syndrome. A role for ACE polymorphisms in the progression of FSGS has been found in some studies. Future investigations to identify polymorphisms that influence the development of FSGS, the progression of FSGS, and the response to therapy will greatly improve understanding of the pathogenesis and management of FSGS.