High serum lipopolysaccharide (LPS) activity in normoalbuminuric patients with type 1 diabetes (T1D) predicts the progression of diabetic nephropathy (DN), but the mechanisms behind this remain unclear. We observed that treatment of cultured human podocytes with sera from normoalbuminuric T1D patients with high LPS activity downregulated 3-phosphoinositide-dependent kinase-1 (PDK1), an activator of the Akt cell survival pathway, and induced apoptosis. Knockdown of PDK1 in cultured human podocytes inhibited antiapoptotic Akt pathway, stimulated proapoptotic p38 MAPK pathway, and increased apoptosis demonstrating an antiapoptotic role for PDK1 in podocytes. Interestingly, PDK1 was downregulated in the glomeruli of diabetic rats and patients with type 2 diabetes before the onset of proteinuria, further suggesting that reduced expression of PDK1 associates with podocyte injury and development of DN. Treatment of podocytes in vitro and mice in vivo with LPS reduced PDK1 expression and induced apoptosis, which were prevented by inhibiting the Toll-like receptor (TLR) signaling pathway with the immunomodulatory agent GIT27. Our data show that LPS downregulates the cell survival factor PDK1 and induces podocyte apoptosis, and that blocking the TLR pathway with GIT27 may provide a non-nephrotoxic means to prevent the progression of DN.