Glomerulonephritis (GN) leading to glomerular sclerosis remains an important cause of renal failure. The glomerulus is a capillary network, but endothelial and vascular reactions during progressive GN are not well understood. We have, therefore, examined the morphological alterations of glomerular capillary network and endothelial cells during the progression of damaged glomeruli to glomerular sclerosis. A progressive model of anti-glomerular basement membrane (GBM) GN was induced in Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) rats with a single injection of anti-rat GBM antibody. Severe necrotizing glomerular injuries were observed between day 5 and week 3 with a reduction in the number of total glomerular endothelial cells and total glomerular capillary lumina per glomerular cross sections. In necrotizing lesions, the glomerular endothelial cells were lost with the destruction of the glomerular capillary network. Moreover, angiogenic capillary repair with proliferation of endothelial cells was rare in severely damaged regions of glomeruli. Subsequently, mesangial hypercellularity and marked mesangial matrix accumulation occurred with absence of the development of a capillary network, and the necrotizing lesions progressed to sclerotic scars until 8 weeks. Although active necrotizing lesions could not be seen in damaged glomeruli between week 4 and week 8, the number of apoptotic endothelial cells gradually increased in the glomerular capillaries (0.10 +/- 0.01 apoptotic endothelial cells/glomerular cross section at week 8 versus 0.00 +/- 0.00 control cells (mean +/- SEM; P < 0.05) with the progression of glomerular sclerosis. Whereas the number of apoptotic endothelial cells increased in the damaged glomeruli, the number of total glomerular endothelial cells decreased (9.3 +/- 3.0 cells/glomerular cross section at week 8 versus 24.8 +/- 3.0 cells in control (mean +/- SD); P < 0.001) with regression of glomerular capillaries (3.6 +/- 2.5 capillary lumina/glomerular cross section at week 8 versus 35.0 +/- 5.0 capillary lumina in control (mean +/- SD); P < 0.001). Finally, glomerular endothelial cells could not be detected in the sclerotic lesions in progressive anti-GBM GN in WKY rats. These data indicate that the destruction of the capillary network of glomeruli and subsequent incomplete angiogenic capillary repair leads to glomerular sclerosis in progressive GN. Endothelial cell apoptosis with glomerular capillary regression may also contribute to the development of glomerular sclerosis. Injury of the glomerular capillary network with endothelial cell damage, including apoptosis and subsequent incomplete capillary repair, plays an important role in the progression of glomerular sclerosis during anti-GBM GN in WKY rats.