Glomerular size has been the subject of many studies and, in a number of settings, has a direct association with the development of glomerular sclerosis. However, the normal distribution of glomerular size has not been thoroughly evaluated in the general population in the United States. To address this issue, we analyzed the baseline biopsy specimens of 103 human donor kidneys to determine the maximal planar area (MPA) of the glomerular tuft in a heterogeneous human population. The MPA of each glomerulus was determined by measurement of sections through the vascular pole and/or origin of the proximal tubule, and was determined on each section by two methods: point counting and computer planimetry. There was very high agreement between these two methods. Multivariate analysis was used to identify significant correlates with MPA. Overall, younger donors had smaller glomeruli (P < 0.0001). Black donors had a larger MPA (23.4+/-8.6 mm2 x 10(-3)) than white donors (17.9+/-6.7 mm2 x 10(-3); P < 0.001), independent of donor age. MPA was not significantly different between genders. This heterogeneity in glomerular size may confound clinical studies if not recognized and may help explain differences in glomerular structure and function in response to injurious processes.