Cyclosporine (CsA) administration to patients with recurrent focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) after transplantation results in remission of proteinuria. We have shown that sera from patients with recurrent FSGS can increase the glomerular albumin permeability (Palbumin) and that increase in glomerular cAMP levels can alter the permeability characteristics of glomeruli in vitro. The purpose of this study was to determine if the increased glomerular levels of cAMP were related to the protective effects of CsA on an increase in Palbumin by FSGS sera. Glomeruli from Sprague-Dawley rats following intraperitoneal administration of CsA (25 mg/kg/day), cremophore (25 mg/kg/day), or saline for 5 days were incubated with 1:50 dilution of serum from three FSGS patients or with pooled normal human serum prior to calculation of Palbumin. Glomerular cAMP was measured by radioimmunoassay. Glomerular ultrastructural changes were assessed by transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Serum from three FSGS patients markedly increased Palbumin of glomeruli from saline or cremophore treated rats (saline, 0.68+/-0.08; 0.72+/-0.07; 0.70+/-0.07; and cremophore, 0.79+/-0.05; 0.81+/-0.02; 0.79+/-0.01; n=25 glomeruli in each group). In contrast Palbumin of glomeruli from CsA treated rats was not increased by any of the three FSGS sera tested (0.03+/-0.02; 0.04+/-0.05; 0.02+/-0.07, n=25 glomeruli in each group). Glomerular cAMP (pmol/mg of protein) increased 5 fold in CsA treated rats (328+/-26; 5 rats) compared with cremophore or saline treated rats (87+/-24 and 65+/-23, P<0.01; 5 rats in each group). The glomerular basement membrane appeared to be thickened and the lamina densa had an irregular appearance after treatment with CsA. No ultrastructural changes of glomerular epithelial or endothelial cells were evident. We conclude that CsA may have a direct protective effect on the glomerular filtration barrier in FSGS. We postulate that increased levels of glomerular cAMP by CsA may play an important role in protecting the glomerular Palbumin effect of the FSGS factor and may contribute to remission of proteinuria in FSGS patients.