The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that, in idiopathic minimal lesion nephrotic syndrome (IMLNS), the T regulatory (T reg) cell suppressor mechanism is deficient, thereby enhancing cytokine release by T effector cells. Twenty-one patients with IMLNS, eight healthy controls and two patients with nephrotic syndrome and membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis were studied. The percentage of T reg cells was similar in the healthy controls and in patients with IMLNS in relapse or in remission. Thymidine incorporation in autologous T effector cells, as well as expression of the regulatory cytokine interleukin (IL)-10, was significantly reduced in patients in relapse when compared with patients in remission and healthy subjects. IL-2 expression was also reduced in patients in relapse but did not achieve statistical significance. In a different set of experiments, T cells, from subjects with IMLNS in remission, when stimulated with antiCD3-antiCD28 antibodies, secreted increased levels of cytokines. No such increase in cytokines was observed when cells from healthy controls were stimulated with same mitogen. The impaired T reg cell function observed in these patients may have pathogenic and therapeutic implications, because it could explain the persistence of the proposed pathogenic cytokines observed in the patients with IMLNS.