We investigated the urinary secretion of type IV collagen in 115 subjects with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) without macroproteinuria, 34 normal healthy subjects and 19 subjects with chronic glomerulonephritis (CGN). We examined the relation between the urinary level of type IV collagen and various clinical parameters. The urinary level of type IV collagen was significantly elevated in NIDDM subjects compared with normal subjects (4.88 +/- 3.12 vs. 1.7 +/- 1.25 micrograms/gCr, P < 0.001). The urinary level of type IV collagen was increased even in NIDDM subjects with normoalbuminuria. The ratio of urinary type IV collagen was significantly lower in subjects with chronic glomerulonephritis (CGN) than those in NIDDM subjects (P < 0.001), although there was no significant difference in the urinary level of type IV collagen between NIDDM and CGN subjects. The ratio of urinary type IV collagen to albumin was under 10.0 x 10(-6) in all subjects with CGN. Our results suggest that measurement of the urinary level of type IV collagen is useful for detection of early diabetic nephropathy and for the differential diagnosis of diabetic nephropathy and chronic glomerulonephritis.