Quantitation of immune deposit formation in glomeruli and correlation with immunohistologic and functional changes has been accomplished only in models of anti-glomerular basement membrane antibody-induced nephritis, or indirectly in immune complex disease by measuring radiolabeled antigen deposition. The kinetics of subepithelial immune deposit formation and the relationship between the quantity of antibody deposited and proteinuria are defined here for the first time in an established model of membranous immune complex nephritis (passive Heymann nephritis) induced by a single intravenous injection of (125)I-labeled sheep immunoglobulin (Ig)G antibody to rat tubular brush border antigen (Fx1A). Measurement of antibody deposition in glomeruli (GAb) isolated from rats injected with 10 mg of anti-Fx1A demonstrated a mean of 12 mug GAb in 4 h, which increased linearly to 48 mug in 5 d. GAb represented only 20 and 44% of total kidney antibody binding at these times. Proteinuria occurred only after 4-5 d of antibody deposition in rats with total kidney antibody binding exceeding approximately 200 mug/2 kidneys. Steroid treatment and vasoactive amine blockade did not significantly alter the quantity or localization of immune deposits. It was also demonstrated that isolated rat glomeruli specifically bound nephritogenic quantities of anti-Fx1A in vitro within hours. Analysis of the quantitative aspects of glomerular antibody deposition in vivo and glomerular antibody binding in vitro provides additional evidence that subepithelial immune deposits in passive Heymann nephritis may form in situ by reaction of free antibody with antigenic constitutents of the normal rat glomerulus. The observed kinetics of deposit formation differ markedly from those in anti-glomerular basement membrane disease and suggest a role for factors in addition to antigen-antibody interaction in determining this unique pattern of glomerular immune deposit formation.