This Review summarizes recent research on the podocyte slit diaphragm. A growing number of molecules that function at the slit diaphragm have been identified in patients with inherited and sporadic nephrotic syndromes. Genetic deletion of nearly all of these molecules results in proteinuria and effacement of foot processes. Nephrin, Neph1 and podocin seem to form a multifunctional receptor complex at the slit diaphragm. Most of the other components of the slit diaphragm interact directly with this complex, in many cases coupling slit diaphragm components to the podocyte's actin cytoskeleton. These molecular findings are being applied to patients with glomerular disease. Over the next decade, these data might help to improve disease classification and prediction of which patients will respond to immunosuppressive treatment.