We report here the cases of 15 children in whom nephrotic syndrome developed, from among 164 children (55% male, 90% black) followed in our acquired immunodeficiency syndrome clinic from 1984 through 1990. Mean age at onset of nephrotic syndrome was 4.9 +/- 2.6 years. Fourteen patients were black and one was Hispanic. Seventy-three percent of our patients with nephrotic syndrome were girls. The mean duration of clinical acquired immunodeficiency syndrome before development of nephrotic syndrome was 1.7 +/- 1.1 years. In eight patients, nephrotic syndrome appeared between 3 and 11 months after intravenous infusions of immune globulin or albumin were administered as part of a research protocol; this incidence (8/47) was higher than the incidence of nephrotic syndrome among those who did not receive intravenous infusions (7/117, p less than 0.05). Tissue for histologic examination was available for 80% of the patients, and histologic examination demonstrated mesangial hypercellularity (5 patients), focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (4 patients), minimal change disease (2 patients), and IgM nephropathy (1 patient). Deposition of one or more immunoglobulins was noted in all but one patient studied with immunofluorescence. Corresponding electron-dense deposits were seen by electron microscopy in 78% of specimens. Prednisone did not induce a remission of nephrotic syndrome in the 13 patients treated, whereas cyclosporine did so in the 3 patients to whom it was administered. Five patients were in the end stage of renal disease within 8 months. Successful maintenance peritoneal dialysis was performed in three patients, but 80% of patients have died of human immunodeficiency virus-related complications; one patient was lost to follow-up. We conclude that immune-complex deposition is consistently seen in children with human immunodeficiency virus-associated nephrotic syndrome. This nephrotic syndrome is resistant to steroid therapy, but we observed a remission of the proteinuria with cyclosporine therapy in three patients. For patients with end-stage renal disease, maintenance peritoneal dialysis may improve the quality of life.