Polymorphisms in APOL1 are associated with CKD, including HIV-related CKD, in individuals of African ancestry. The apolipoprotein L1 (APOL1) protein circulates and is localized in kidney cells, but the contribution of APOL1 location to CKD pathogenesis is unclear. We examined associations of plasma APOL1 levels with plasma cytokine levels, dyslipidemia, and APOL1 genotype in a nested case-control study (n=270) of HIV-infected African Americans enrolled in a multicenter prospective observational study. Patients were designated as having CKD when estimated GFR (eGFR) decreased to <60 ml/min per 1.73 m(2) (eGFR<60 cohort) or protein-to-creatinine ratios became >3.5 g/g (nephrotic proteinuria cohort). Circulating APOL1 levels did not associate with APOL1 genotype, CKD status, or levels of proinflammatory cytokines, but did correlate with fasting cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. At ascertainment, CKD-associated polymorphisms (risk variants) in APOL1 associated with the eGFR<60 cohort, but not the nephrotic-range proteinuria cohort. Of note, in both the eGFR<60 and nephrotic proteinuria cohorts, CKD cases with two APOL1 risk variants had significant declines in eGFR over a median of 4 years compared with individuals with one or no risk variants. APOL1 risk genotype was not associated with changes in proteinuria. Higher circulating proinflammatory cytokine levels were independently associated with CKD but not APOL1 genotype. In conclusion, the function of variant APOL1 proteins derived from circulation or synthesized in the kidney, but not the level of circulating APOL1, probably mediates APOL1-associated kidney disease in HIV-infected African Americans.