Initially, poor long-term prognosis in patients with SLE and fear of recurrent disease dissuaded renal transplantation in this group of patients. However, in 1975 the Advisory Committee to the Renal Transplant Registry reported satisfactory 1-2-year results in 56 patients with SLE from 36 institutions. Subsequently, renal transplantation for SLE patients with end-stage renal disease has become more accepted, though it has been recommended that transplantation be postponed for at least one year after initiating dialysis. Five cases of recurrent lupus nephritis have been reported in the literature. However, since the long-term outcome after transplantation in this group of patients is not well established, we have examined the long-term outcome in SLE patients who underwent renal transplantation at the University of Minnesota. Thirty-two SLE patients receiving 33 transplants between December 1969 and December 1987 were studied retrospectively and compared with controls matched for age, sex, donor source, HLA match, date of transplant, and diabetic status. A total of 69% (22/32) of patients underwent less than 1 year of dialysis prior to transplantation, and 50% (16/32) experienced biopsy-proved acute rejection, which was reversible in 67% (11/16). Actuarial graft function and patient survival rate in SLE patients were not significantly different from those in the matched control group. Duration of prior dialysis did not affect outcome. Surviving grafts have excellent function as measured by serum creatinine (1.3 +/- 0.4 mg/dl, means +/- SD). Causes of death were sepsis (5) and myocardial infarction (1). One patient lost the graft from rejection after withdrawal of immunosuppression because of a malignancy one month posttransplant. Three patients lost graft function due to chronic rejection. To date no patients have had evidence of recurrent SLE nephritis.