Progression of diabetic nephropathy from the stage of macroproteinuria with near-normal renal function until start of dialysis was compared in 16 patients with type I and 16 patients with type II diabetes mellitus. The mean creatinine clearance at the beginning of the study was 89 +/- 13 ml/min/1.73 m2 in patients with type I and 81 +/- 6 ml/min/1.73 m2 in those with type II diabetes. Dialysis was started after a mean interval of 77 (44-133) months, when creatinine clearance had decreased to 8 +/- 2 ml/min/1.73 m2 in type I diabetic patients. The respective figures for type II diabetic patients were 81 (40-124) months and 7 +/- 2 ml/min/1.73 m2. The mean rate of decrease in creatinine clearance was 1.05 +/- 0.45 ml/min/month in type I and 0.91 +/- 0.41 ml/min/month in type II diabetes. The mean rate of decrease was 1.46 +/- 0.30 ml/min/month in type I diabetic patients with a systolic BP > 160 mmHg versus 0.80 +/- 0.42 ml/min/month with < 160 mmHg (P < 0.01). In the type II diabetics the respective figures were 1.38 +/- 0.40 ml/min/month versus 0.78 +/- 0.15 ml/min/month (P < 0.01). During the observation period the prevalence of coronary heart disease increased from 6 to 50% in type I and from 31 to 87% in type II diabetes. In conclusion, the rate of progression of diabetic nephropathy during the predialytic phase is similar in type I and type II diabetes; BP adversely affects the rate of progression to the same extent in both groups.