Superoxide dismutase (SOD) in renal tissue biopsy specimens obtained from patients with immunoglobulin A nephropathy (13 cases) and non-immunoglobulin A mesangial proliferative glomerulonephritis (nine cases) was studied at the protein level by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay method and at the mRNA level by the reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay. Total SOD activity in the tissue supernatant was measured by applying an electron paramagnetic resonance/spin trapping method. Normal renal tissues obtained from kidneys removed for malignancies (six cases) were included as healthy controls. The copper and zinc form of SOD (Cu,Zn-SOD) activity at both the protein and mRNA levels was lower in the moderately or severely damaged tissues compared with that in the normal or mildly damaged tissues. On the other hand, manganese SOD (Mn-SOD) values at either the protein level or the mRNA level did not differ significantly between control and patient samples. In the histochemical study using a polyclonal rabbit anti-Cu,Zn-SOD antibody, the staining intensity for Cu,Zn-SOD antigen was lower in the areas with advanced histologic damage than in the intact tissues. A follow-up study showed that renal function deterioration was proportionately slower in patients whose SOD activity was within the range of healthy tissue levels at the time of biopsy. Our data suggest that a lower level of SOD activity, whether as a cause or a consequence of the disease process, might induce a decrease in the scavenger reaction of superoxide (O2-) thus causing the tissue to become more vulnerable to oxidative stress.