In the past decade, our understanding of the role of podocytes in the function of the glomerular filtration barrier, and of the role of podocyte injury in the pathogenesis of proteinuric kidney disease, has substantially increased. Landmark genetic studies identified mutations in genes expressed by podocytes as a cause of albuminuria and nephrotic syndrome, leading to breakthrough discoveries from many laboratories. These discoveries contributed to a dramatic change in our view of the glomerular filtration barrier of the kidney and of the role of podocyte injury in the development of albuminuria and progressive kidney disease. In the past several years, studies have demonstrated that podocyte injury is a major cause of marked albuminuria and nephrotic syndrome, and have confirmed that podocytes are important for the maintenance of an intact glomerular filtration barrier. An essential role of loss of these cells in the pathogenesis of glomerulosclerosis and progressive proteinuric kidney disease has also been identified. In this Review, we discuss the importance of podocytes for the maintenance of an intact glomerular filtration barrier and their role in albumin handling.