Passive Heymann nephritis (PHN) is a model of human membranous nephropathy that is characterized by formation of granular subepithelial immune deposits in the glomerular capillary wall which results in complement activation. This is causally related to damage of the filtration barrier and subsequent proteinuria. The local accumulation of injurious reactive oxygen species (ROS) is a major effector mechanism in PHN. ROS may induce tissue damage by initiating lipid peroxidation (LPO). In turn, this leads to adduct formation between breakdown products of LPO with structural proteins, such as formation of malondialdehyde (MDA) or 4-hydroxynonenal-lysine adducts. To examine the role of LPO in the development of proteinuria we have localized MDA and 4-hydroxynonenal-lysine adducts in glomeruli of PHN rats by immunofluorescence microscopy, using specific monoclonal antibodies. By immunogold electron microscopy, MDA adducts were localized to cytoplasmic vesicles and cell membranes of glomerular epithelial cells, to the glomerular basement membrane (GBM), and also to immune deposits. Type IV collagen was specifically identified as being modified by MDA adducts, using a variety of techniques. Collagenase pretreatment of GBM extracts indicated that the NC-1 domain of type IV collagen was a site of adduct formation. When LPO was inhibited by pretreatment of PHN rats with the antioxidant probucol, proteinuria was reduced by approximately 85%, and glomerular immunostaining for dialdehyde adducts was markedly reduced, even though the formation of immune deposits was not affected. By contrast, lowering of the serum cholesterol levels had no influence on the development of proteinuria. These findings are consistent with the premise that ROS-induced glomerular injury in PHN involves LPO and that this results not only in damage of cell membranes but in modification of type IV collagen in the GBM as well. The close temporal correlation of the occurrence of LPO with proteinuria and the ability of probucol to inhibit proteinuria support a causal role for LPO in the the alteration of the glomerular permselectivity which results in proteinuria.