Much evidence suggests that primary IgA nephropathy (IgAN) and idiopathic membranous nephropathy (MN) are immune complex mediated diseases. Moreover, genetic factors may play an important role in their pathogenesis. Recently, restriction fragment length polymorphisms (RFLPs) of the immunoglobulin heavy chain genes have been described which appear to associate with glomerulonephritis. We have studied RFLPs of the switch region of the IgM (S mu) and IgA1 (S alpha 1) heavy chain in MN and IgAN. DNA obtained from British Caucasoids with IgAN (N = 75), MN (N = 43), and normal controls (N = 73), was digested with the restriction enzyme Sac1, and studied using Southern blot techniques and hybridization with a 32P labelled DNA probe homologous to S mu. This probe detects RFLPs at the S mu and S alpha 1 loci. The genotypic and allelic frequencies of the S mu and S alpha 1 alleles in IgAN and MN was similar to normal controls. Caucasoid subjects with IgAN from Northern and Southern Europe (Finland and Italy, respectively) were also studied to determine whether an ethnic variation in genetic susceptibility to IgAN exists. The frequency of the S mu and S alpha 1 alleles was similar between the patient groups and their respective local healthy controls. These results do not support the recent findings of an association with RFLPs of the S mu and S alpha 1 loci in IgAN and MN, and suggest that the immunoglobulin heavy chain switch region genes are not important in conferring disease susceptibility to IgAN or MN.