Proteinuria and progressive renal insufficiency are the primary manifestations of diabetic nephropathy. Accumulating evidence suggests that these clinical features can be linked, at least in part, to pathologic changes in the glomerular extracellular matrix. Most evidence suggests that glomerular basement membrane thickening and mesangial matrix expansion consist of at least three elements. These are (1) an accumulation of normal extracellular components; (2) an increase in the novel peptide chains of the normal components of Type IV collagen; and (3) an increase in matrix elements not normally expressed in the glomerulus. The pathogenetic features underlying these changes include increased synthesis and decreased degradation of matrix. Abnormal physico-chemical interactions among these matrix elements likely contribute to alterations in three-dimensional structure, leading to proteinuria and loss of glomerular basement membrane filtering surface area. Many of these changes may be explained in whole or in part by direct or secondary effects of hyperglycemia, as well as by hemodynamic changes.