Non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) and the renal disease attributable to it have been characterized extensively in the Pima Indians, a group of American Indians who form the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona. Both of these diseases are common in this community, and their onset and duration are known with greater certainty than in other populations because research examinations, which include oral glucose tolerance tests and measures of urinary protein excretion, have been performed frequently on most members of the population for the past 30 years. Studies of glomerular structure and hemodynamic function in diabetic Pima Indians indicate that glomerular hyperfiltration often develops at the onset of NIDDM and remains elevated until after overt nephropathy appears. Structurally, the glomeruli in subjects with microalbuminuria are not clearly distinguishable from those in subjects with normoalbuminuria, but macroalbuminuria is characterized by extensive glomerular sclerosis, mesangial expansion, and widening of epithelial cell foot processes that together lead to a rapid decline in the glomerular filtration rate. The decline in glomerular function in subjects with macroalbuminuria is due both to a loss of ultrafiltration surface area and to reduction in glomerular hydraulic permeability.