In a prospective follow-up of 30 patients with type 1 diabetes and nephropathy, serum cholesterol, triglycerides, apolipoprotein Al and B, and lipoprotein(a) were determined to study their relationship to the rate of decline in glomerular filtration rate. The patients had proteinuria and advanced nephropathy with a mean +/- SD glomerular filtration rate of 39 mL/min/1.73 m2. The decline in glomerular filtration rate was determined during 2.5 +/- 0.5 years. High serum cholesterol, triglycerides, and apolipoprotein B were correlated to a more rapid deterioration in kidney function. The rate of decline in glomerular filtration rate was 1.0 +/- 2.5 mL/min/yr in the 10 patients with the lowest cholesterol level, compared with 4.5 +/- 3.2 mL/min/yr in the patients with the highest serum cholesterol (P = 0.015). The combined effect of the measured lipids, blood pressure, type of antihypertensive treatment, protein intake, proteinuria, and hemoglobin A1C on the rate of decline in glomerular filtration rate was assessed by multiple regression analysis. The measured factors together had a high explanatory power for the rate of decline in glomerular filtration rate. In this model, 73% of the variation in decline in glomerular filtration rate was explained by the measured variables (multiple r2 = 0.73). Low cholesterol and treatment with an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor were the strongest predictors of a favorable renal prognosis. This suggests that hypercholesterolemia is an important risk factor for diabetic nephropathy.