We examined the rate of development of the lesions of diabetic nephropathy in transplanted kidneys residing for 6-14 yr in type I (insulin-dependent) diabetic kidney-allograft recipients. Although each recipient had end-stage diabetic nephropathy with his/her own kidneys, there was marked variability in the rate of development of mesangial expansion observed in the transplanted kidneys. The progression of glomerular pathology, including widening of the glomerular basement membrane and expansion of the mesangium, did not correlate significantly with several potential risk factors (e.g., donor source - cadaver or living related, histocompatibility match, age of the recipient or donor, age at onset of diabetes, duration of diabetes before renal failure, immunosuppressive drug dose, blood pressure, and severity of lesions of chronic rejection). However, there was a direct albeit imprecise relationship between the index of mesangial expansion at the final biopsy and the index of glycemic control (r = .61, P < .01). These observations suggest that currently unknown factor(s) may modulate the progression of diabetic renal disease, even in a population that had uniformly demonstrated nephropathy risk. Our data support the hypothesis that in addition to glycemic control per se, there are risk factors intrinsic to the kidney itself.