The present study was designed to assess whether expression of mRNA for extracellular matrix (ECM) components, metalloproteinases (MMP) and tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases (TIMP) in glomeruli is affected by a low protein diet during the course of focal glomerulosclerosis (FGS). Puromycin aminonucleoside (PAN) was injected intraperitoneally in rats and the right kidney was removed on day 22. Nephrotic rats received successive intraperitoneal injections of PAN on days 27, 34, and 41. Control rats were subjected to a nephrectomy or a sham operation on day 22. Animals were divided into six groups. In group 1, the PAN-injected rats were fed a standard diet containing 22% protein. In group 2, the PAN-injected rats were fed a low protein diet containing 6% protein, starting on the same day as the first PAN injection. In group 3, the nephrectomized rats without PAN were fed a standard diet. In group 4, the nephrectomized rats without PAN were fed a low protein diet for the same period. In group 5, the sham operated rats were fed a standard diet. In group 6, the sham operated rats were fed a low protein diet for the same period. Rats were sacrificed on days 0, 60 or 80 after the initial PAN or saline injection. The percentage of sclerotic glomeruli in group 1 rats increased markedly with time, reaching 77% on day 80. The mRNA levels encoding for alpha 1(I), alpha 1(III), alpha 1(IV) collagen chains, laminin B1 and B2 chains, heparan sulfate proteoglycan (HSPG), MMP-2, TIMP-1 and TIMP-2 increased significantly as glomerulosclerosis progressed, whereas MMP-1 and MMP-3 mRNA levels were unchanged, and no MMP-9 mRNA was detected throughout the experiments. In group 2, the low protein diet reduced the prevalence of glomerulosclerosis and attenuated the increased mRNA expression for ECM components, MMP-2, TIMP-1 and TIMP-2 in FGS glomeruli. In groups 3 through 6, mRNA levels for ECM components decreased with age, whereas those for MMPs and TIMPs changed little throughout the experiments. Immunofluorescence studies revealed the accumulation of types I, III and IV collagens, laminin, and HSPG in the sclerotic area and low protein diet attenuated the accumulation of these proteins. These data suggest that glomerulosclerosis may result from an imbalance among ECM components, MMPs and TIMPs and that a low protein diet attenuates the otherwise increased levels of mRNA for ECM components, MMP-2, TIMP-1 and TIMP-2 in glomerulosclerosis.