The effects of glomerular size and visceral epithelial cell integrity upon the development of progressive glomerulosclerosis was studied by superimposing renal ablation on adriamycin-induced nephropathy in rats. Adriamycin alone caused focal epithelial cell injury and proteinuria but minimal segmental glomerulosclerosis. In normal rats, renal ablation was accompanied by mild progressive proteinuria and glomerulosclerosis. However, renal ablation in rats with adriamycin nephropathy caused a dramatic increase in proteinuria and a disproportionately high frequency of segmental glomerulosclerosis. Accelerated glomerular injury after renal ablation in adriamycin-treated rats was associated with substantial glomerular hypertrophy with near doubling of the tuft volume. Morphometric and autoradiographic studies showed that compensatory glomerular hypertrophy occurs without a proportional increase in the number of visceral epithelial cells, leading to a substantial reduction in the density of these cells within the capillary tuft. The severity of segmental glomerulosclerosis showed a significant correlation with the glomerular volume and the reciprocal of the visceral epithelial cell density. Ultrastructural observations indicate that epithelial defects with detachment of the cell processes from the underlying basement membrane are almost invariably seen in areas of segmental glomerulosclerosis with hyalinosis. These findings suggest that the process of progressive glomerulosclerosis is, to a great extent, contingent upon the development of epithelial cell defects, that result from direct injury or from a reduction in the cell density after inordinate compensatory glomerular hypertrophy.