Data compiled during the 1970s and early 1980s indicated that during these periods, membranous nephropathy was the most common cause of unexplained nephrotic syndrome in adults, followed in order of frequency by minimal-change nephropathy and focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS). However, we and others recently reported an increase in the incidence of FSGS over the past two decades, and the number of cases of FSGS diagnosed by renal biopsies in these centers now exceeds the number of cases of membranous nephropathy. Nonetheless, as a substantial fraction of patients with FSGS do not have the nephrotic syndrome, it remained unclear as to what extent the relative frequencies of FSGS and other glomerulopathies as causes of the nephrotic syndrome have changed over this time. To address this concern, we reviewed data from 1,000 adult native kidney biopsies performed between January 1976 and April 1979 and from 1,000 biopsies performed between January 1995 and January 1997, identified all cases with a full-blown nephrotic syndrome of unknown etiology at the time of biopsy, and compared the relative frequencies with which specific diseases were diagnosed in these latter cases between the two time intervals. The main findings of this study were that, first, during the 1976 to 1979 period, the relative frequencies of membranous (36%) and minimal-change (23%) nephropathies and of FSGS (15%) as causes of unexplained nephrotic syndrome were similar to those observed in previous studies during the 1970s and early 1980s. In contrast, from 1995 to 1997, FSGS was the most common cause of this syndrome, accounting for 35% of cases compared with 33% for membranous nephropathy. Second, during the 1995 to 1997 period, FSGS accounted for more than 50% of cases of unexplained nephrotic syndrome in black adults and for 67% of such cases in black adults younger than 45 years. Third, although the relative frequency of nephrotic syndrome due to FSGS was two to three times higher in black than in white patients during both study periods, the frequency of FSGS increased similarly among both racial groups from the earlier to the later period. Fourth, the frequency of minimal-change nephrotic syndrome decreased from the earlier to the later study period in both black and white adults. Fifth, the relative frequency of membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis as a cause of the nephrotic syndrome declined from the 1976 to 1979 period to the 1995 to 1997 period, whereas that of immunoglobulin A nephropathy appeared to increase; the latter accounted for 14% of cases of unexplained nephrotic syndrome in white adults during the latter study period. Finally, 10% of nephrotic adults older than 44 years had AL amyloid nephropathy; none of these patients had multiple myeloma or a known paraprotein at the time of renal biopsy.