The glomerular immunohistologic characteristics of 180 patients with IgA nephropathy (IgAN), defined by 2+ or greater (out of 0 to 4+) mesangial IgA-dominant or codominant immunostaining and no evidence for systemic lupus erythematosus, were compared with those of 84 patients with proliferative lupus glomerulonephritis and 254 patients with other forms of proliferative glomerulonephritis. The IgAN population increased in number by only 5% if the IgA immunostaining criterion was lowered to 1+, and it decreased by only 2% if IgA codominant staining was disallowed. A distinctive immunohistologic feature of IgAN in comparison with other immune complex-mediated glomerulopathies, in addition to the predominance of IgA immunostaining, was a high frequency (67%) of patients with greater lambda- than kappa-immunoglobulin light chain immunostaining. There was no correlation between the absolute or relative intensities or frequencies of IgA, IgG, or IgM immunostaining and the severity of glomerular disease; however, the presence of capillary wall immune deposits correlated with more severe disease. Terminal complement components were consistently present and were more conspicuous in more severely injured glomeruli. Immunostaining for the early classical complement activation pathway component C1q was absent or scanty in IgAN. This finding was particularly useful in the immunohistologic differentiation of IgAN from proliferative lupus glomerulonephritis, which was the form of glomerulonephritis with the greatest overlap with IgAN with respect to IgA immunostaining. When the diagnostic criteria for IgAN were 2+ or greater, dominant or codominant mesangial IgA immunostaining and less than 2+ C1q immunostaining, an immunohistologic diagnosis of IgAN was made with 98% accuracy.