To determine whether plasma exchange was of additional benefit in patients treated with oral immunosuppressive drugs for focal necrotizing glomerulonephritis (without anti-GBM antibodies), we performed a randomized controlled trial with stratification for renal function on entry. Forty-eight cases were analyzed, 25 in the treatment group (plasma exchange, prednisolone, cyclophosphamide and azathioprine) and 23 in the control group (drug therapy only). There was no difference in outcome in patients presenting with serum creatinine less than 500 mumol/liter (N = 17), or greater than 500 mumol/liter but not on dialysis (N = 12), all but one of whom had improved by four weeks. However, patients who were initially dialysis-dependent (N = 19) were more likely to have recovered renal function (P = 0.041) if treated with plasma exchange as well as drugs (10 of 11) rather than with drugs alone (3 of 8). Long-term follow-up showed that improvement in renal function was generally maintained. The results of this trial confirm that focal necrotizing glomerulonephritis related to systemic vasculitis responds well to immunosuppressive drugs when treatment is started early, and suggest that plasma exchange is of additional benefit in dialysis-dependent cases.