Baseline glomerular structure in microalbuminuric (MA) and proteinuric Caucasian type 2 diabetic patients predicted progressive glomerular filtration rate decline while baseline urinary albumin excretion (UAE) did not. Little is known about whether or not renal structure at the early stages of diabetic nephropathy (DN) in type 2 diabetic patients can predict further functional development of DN. Baseline renal structure and function and follow-up data of renal function were examined in 17 type 2 diabetic patients (11 men, 45+/-7 (mean+/-S.D.) years old) with known diabetes duration 11+/-8 years without definable renal disease other than DN. Six patients showed normoalbuminuria (NA), 11 microalbuminuria (MA), and were followed up for 6.4+/-1.8 years after the baseline renal biopsy. Light and electron microscopic morphometric analyses provided quantitative glomerular and tubulointerstitial structural changes. No statistically significant difference was observed in hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) values or mean blood pressure (MBP) between baseline and follow-up, even though the number of patients placed on antihypertensive drugs increased from 3 to 7. Follow-up UAE was not significantly different from the baseline UAE although 13 of 17 cases showed an increase. Baseline UAE did not correlate with the follow-up UAE or morphometric measures. Glomerular basement membrane width and volume fraction of the mesangium and mesangial matrix positively correlated with follow-up UAE. In NA and MA Japanese type 2 diabetic patients, baseline renal structural measures are more reliable indicators for the development of UAE than baseline UAE.