In early stages of permanent renal injury or extensive ablation, structural and functional adaptations associated with hypertrophy partially compensate for nephron losses. Glomerulotubular balance is maintained in these conditioned nephrons by intrinsic tubule and peritubular capillary adaptations that parallel single nephron glomerular filtration rate (SNGFR). Studies of Na+-H+ exchange in renal cortical brush border membrane vesicles indicate that tubule functional adaptation is not tied to loss of renal mass per se but rather to factors such as dietary protein content that set the level of SNGFR. Likewise, the structural heterogeneity that follows chronic renal injury or extreme ablation of renal mass is less a consequence of nephron injury than of adaptation linked to dietary protein intake. Indeed, since dietary protein restriction blunts the need for compensatory glomerular hyperfiltration, there is neither a stimulus for nephron hypertrophy nor for enhanced tubule ion and fluid transport. In rats with remnant kidneys, experimentally induced diabetes mellitus, or severe hypertension, increases in glomerular pressures and flows precede proteinuria, glomerular sclerosis, and azotemia. Protein restriction prevents these hemodynamic adaptations as well as the late complications. Similar conclusions appear to be applicable to a wide spectrum of clinical circumstances characterized by reduced nephron number.