African Americans have excess hypertension and end-stage renal disease presumed due to hypertension compared to Caucasians. The AASK was designed to examine the impact of antihypertensive therapies and two levels of blood pressure control on the rate of decline of GFR in African Americans with presumed hypertensive renal disease. During the pilot phase of the trial, eligible participants were requested to undergo renal biopsy to assess the underlying lesions in this population. Eighty-eight hypertensive (diastolic BP > 95 mm Hg) non-diabetic African American patients between the ages of 18 to 70 years, with GFR between 25 to 70 ml/min/1.73 m2 and without marked proteinuria were assessed for possible renal biopsy. Forty-three patients did not undergo renal biopsy due to refusal or contraindications. Adequate renal biopsies were obtained in 39 of the remaining 46 patients. Biopsy findings were analyzed and then compared to clinical parameters. The 39 patients studied, 29 men and 10 women, were on average 53.0 +/- 11.0 years old, and had a MAP of 109 +/- 15 mm Hg and GFR 51.7 +/- 13.6 ml/min/1.73 m2 (not significantly different from nonbiopsied patients). Thirty-eight of these 39 biopsies showed arteriosclerosis and/or arteriolosclerosis, severity on average 1.5 +/- 0.9 and 1.5 +/- 0.8, respectively on a 0 to 3+ scale. Interstitial fibrosis was moderate, 1.3 +/- 0.9 (0 to 3+ scale). Segmental glomerulosclerosis was present in five biopsies, and in one patient, biopsy and clinical findings were consistent with idiopathic focal segmental glomerulosclerosis. Additional lesions included mesangiopathic glomerulonephritis in one patient, basement membrane thickening suggestive of diabetic nephropathy in one, and cholesterol emboli in two cases. Arteriolar and arterial sclerosis were tightly linked, and correlated with interstitial fibrosis and the reciprocal of serum creatinine. Global glomerulosclerosis was extensive, involving on average 43 +/- 26% of glomeruli. The extent of this lesion did not correlate with degree of arteriolar or arterial thickening, but did correlate with systolic blood pressure (P = 0.0174), the reciprocal of serum creatinine (P = 0.0009), serum cholesterol (P = 0.0129) and interstitial fibrosis (P < 0.0001). These data underscore that renal biopsies in non-diabetic hypertensive African-Americans with mild to moderate renal insufficiency in the absence of marked proteinuria are overwhelmingly likely to show renal vascular lesions consistent with the clinical diagnosis of hypertensive nephrosclerosis.