In glomerular diseases associated with antibody- and complement-mediated injury to endothelial and mesangial cells, cell proliferation is an important early response that precedes matrix accumulation and glomerulosclerosis. In contrast, in diseases in which the visceral glomerular epithelial cell (vGEC) is the principal target of injury, cell proliferation is not a recognized consequence, although vGECs respond in vitro to a variety of growth factors and inflammatory mediators. To explore the possibility that low levels of vGEC proliferation may occur and participate in such diseases, serial studies were done in the passive Heymann nephritis model of membranous nephropathy, in which the vGEC is the primary target of antibody- and C5b-9-mediated injury. The results showed mitotic figures and positive staining for the proliferating cell nuclear antigen in cells whose location defined them as vGECs. The proliferating cell nuclear antigen-positive cells at the edge of the capillary wall were confirmed to be vGECs by double-immunostaining with antibodies to SPARC/osteonectin, which preferentially label vGECs in passive Heymann nephritis. Proliferation of vGECs in vivo was preceded by increased glomerular expression of platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) B-chain protein and messenger RNA, both of which localized to vGECs. PDGF B-chain protein and messenger RNA were also detected in cultured vGECs. PDGF receptor beta-subunit protein or messenger RNA could not be demonstrated in vGECs in vivo or in vitro, and no growth response of cultured vGECs to PDGF was noted. These results suggest that proliferation of vGECs does occur in a model of glomerular injury induced by antibody and C5b-9 on vGECs. VGEC proliferation and production of PDGF may be involved in the restoration of the capillary wall but could also contribute to local capillary wall injury and proliferation of other cells in Bowman's capsule, interstitium, and tubules.