The genetic polymorphism of apolipoprotein E (epsilon 2, epsilon 3 and epsilon 4) is associated with lipid abnormalities. It has been suggested that lipid abnormalities may contribute to the development and progression of kidney diseases, including diabetic nephropathy. Thus, in this study we compared the apo E allele frequencies among 146 non-insulin-dependent diabetic (NIDDM) patients with nephropathy, 135 NIDDM patients without nephropathy and 576 of the general Japanese population. The epsilon 2 allele frequency was significantly higher in diabetic patients with nephropathy (7.2%) and with renal failure (9.7%) than in diabetic patients without nephropathy (2.6%) and in the general Japanese population (3.7%). It is concluded that there is a possibility that the epsilon 2 allele is associated with nephropathy in NIDDM.