The presence and distribution of C3b receptors in normal human kidneys and in biopsies from 75 patients with renal disease were investigated by immunohistochemical techniques using monospecific rabbit antibody to the 205,000-mol wt glycoprotein that is the C3b receptor of human peripheral blood cells. Anti-C3b receptor bound exclusively to podocytes in normal renal cortex, and was homogeneously distributed on the plasma membrane of these cells. Biosynthesis of the receptor by the podocyte was suggested by the presence of antigenic activity in the Golgi apparatus. Although occupancy of receptor sites following the interaction of kidney sections with aggregated IgG preincubated with normal serum inhibited binding to glomeruli of C3b coated cells, the C3b receptor remained accessible to anti-C3b receptor antibody. No staining of podocytes was found in extra-capillary proliferating cells in rapidly progressive glomerulonephritis (GN). Segmental loss of staining was found in focal hyalinosis, nodular diabetic glomerulosclerosis, and amyloidosis while no detectable C3b receptor antigen was found in severe proliferative nephritis of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Normal staining of podocytes was found in other nephropathies with endocapillary proliferation such as acute GN and mesangial GN and in renal diseases associated with immune deposits containing C3 such as mesangial proliferative and membranous SLE nephritis, idiopathic membranous GN, membranoproliferative GN types I and II, mesangial GN with IgA or C3 deposition and Henoch Schönlein's purpura. Loss of C3b receptor antigen in the diffuse proliferative nephritis of SLE distinguishes it both from nonproliferative lupus nephritis and other immunologically mediated proliferative GN.