For the past 10-15 years all the children at our unit with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus have been repeatedly followed-up with renal function tests. Renal biopsy, examined by light and electron microscopy, was included in the follow-up of 36 adolescents and young adults, aged 13-25 years, with a disease duration of 7-19 years. All subjects had undergone at least three renal function tests before biopsy and none had persistent microalbuminuria. Renal function was evaluated as glomerular filtration rate and effective renal plasma flow determined by clearances of inulin and para-amino hippuric acid. Glomerular filtration rate and filtration fraction were increased before and at the time of the biopsy. Glomerular basement membrane thickness (331-858 nm) and mesangial matrix volume fraction (7.4-17.1%) were increased. Long-term hyperfiltration and hyperperfusion before biopsy correlated inversely with mean glomerular volume. Increased filtration fraction before the biopsy correlated directly with mean of all HbA1c (r = 0.485, p < 0.01) and both variables correlated directly with mesangial matrix volume fraction, basement membrane thickness and structural index (r = 0.433, p < 0.01 and r = 0.626, p < 0.001, respectively). Urinary albumin excretion rate correlated directly with foot process width (r = 0.645, p < 0.001). By multiple regression analysis the most important variable for the increase in basal membrane thickness was the metabolic control while the mean of previous filtration fraction was most important for the increase in mesangial matrix volume. In conclusion, although none of the patients showed constant microalbuminuria, early diabetic structural changes were evident with basal membrane thickening and increased mesangial matrix volume. The structural changes related to long-standing hyperfiltration and poor metabolic control.