Kidney biopsies from 15 type-1 (insulin-dependent) diabetic patients with a range of albumin excretion (AER) were analyzed. Nine patients had normal AER, and six had microalbuminuria. Basement membrane thickness, BMT, and mesangial matrix volume fraction, Vv(mat/glom), were obtained from at least three glomeruli per biopsy. Mesangial structures were estimated with electron microscopic analysis at three levels in each glomerulus. Glomerulopathy parameters were significantly increased in micro- versus normoalbuminuric patients with the following means and (CV): BMT 571 nm (0.12) and 442 nm (0.25), P = 0.03; Vv(mes/glom) 0.31 (0.20) and 0.22 (0.14), P = 0.002; Vv(matrix/glom) 0.17 (0.25) and 0.11 (0.28), P = 0.006; matrix star volume 56 microns 3 (0.47) and 22 microns 3 (0.43), P = 0.02. A positive correlation obtained between AER and each of the glomerulopathy parameters, BM thickness, Vv(mes/glom) and Vv(matrix/glom), as well as between AER and a structural index expressing the sum of changes in the peripheral BM and in the mesangium (r = 0.62, P = 0.01). The results indicated a parallel course of mesangial and peripheral BM changes: a positive correlation obtained between BM thickness and mesangial parameters [BMT versus Vv(matrix/glom): r = 0.82, P = 0.0001] and the ratio of the two subsets of glomerular BM material (PBM:matrix) did not show significant difference between normo- and microalbuminuric groups. The data give strong support to the contention that the transition from normo- into the microalbuminuric phase is linked to progressing glomerulopathy.