To examine the electrostatic effects of fixed negative charges on the glomerular capillary wall, polydisperse [(3)H]DEAE dextran, a polycationic form of dextran, was infused into 10 Munich-Wistar rats. Fractional clearances of DEAE ranging in radius from 18 to 44A were determined in these rats, together with direct measurements of the forces and flows governing the glomerular filtration rate of water. These results were compared with data previously obtained in Munich-Wistar rats receiving tritiated neutral dextran (D) and polyanionic dextran sulfate (DS). Measured values for the determinants of the glomerular filtration rate of water in rats given DEAE were found to be essentially identical to those in rats given either D or DS. In addition, DEAE was shown to be neither secreted nor reabsorbed. Fractional clearances of polycationic DEAE were increased relative to both D and DS, the increase relative to D being significant for effective molecular radii ranging from 24 to 44A. Fractional DEAE clearances were also measured in a separate group of six Munich-Wistar rats in the early autologous phase of nephrotoxic serum nephritis (NSN). Fractional DEAE clearances in NSN rats were reduced significantly, relative to values measured in normal rats, for effective DEAE radii ranging from 18 to 42A. Moreover, in NSN rats, fixed negative charges on the glomerular capillary wall were greatly reduced, relative to non-NSN rats, as evidenced by a reduction in intensity of colloidal iron staining. Thus, in NSN rats, DEAE clearances were essentially indistinguishable from values obtained with both neutral D and polyanionic DS.