We retrospectively studied the evolution of histopathologic features in successive renal biopsies in patients with lupus nephritis, to evaluate the effects of various treatment regimens. Repeat renal biopsies had been performed in 62 patients after more than 18 months of observation (median interval, 44 months) in randomized therapeutic trials comparing prednisone with cytotoxic drugs. Renal histopathologic features were graded individually, and a composite score reflecting the number and severity of irreversible lesions was defined as a chronicity index. The chronicity index for patients treated with conventional high-dose prednisone increased linearly with the interval between biopsies, whereas the index in the group receiving cytotoxic-drug treatments did not increase over time. After statistical adjustment for important prognostic factors (age and initial chronicity index) identified by multiple linear regression, the difference in the slopes between the group receiving prednisone and the group receiving cytotoxic drugs was significant (P less than 0.0001). We conclude that cytotoxic-drug treatment reduces the likelihood of progressive renal scarring in lupus nephritis.