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Single nephron filtration rate of albumin (SNGFRAlb) was measured in remnant nephrons of Munich-Wistar rats 4-6 wk after subtotal nephrectomy (NPX). Serial thin-section histological analysis was then conducted on the same glomeruli by light microscopy. SNGFRAlb ranged from 1 to 15 times normal. However, a direct relationship between abnormalities of structure and function was not seen, e.g. the glomeruli with the fewest structural abnormalities and marked hyperfiltration often had the highest SNGFRAlb. Moreover, the majority of glomeruli had minimal structural abnormalities. Normalization of the markedly elevated glomerular capillary pressure (PGC) in these glomeruli was accomplished by acute intravenous infusion of verapamil, which decreased SNGFRAlb by 9-83% without affecting the single nephron filtration rate of water (SNGFRH2O). 1-2 wk after subtotal NPX, all glomeruli were hyperfiltering and had elevated PGC. The fractional clearance of larger (greater than 36 A) dextrans was selectively increased in these glomeruli that lacked discernible damage by light microscopy. Verapamil normalized PGC, reduced proteinuria to 48 +/- 4% of baseline, and improved glomerular size selectivity without altering SNGFRH2O. Proteinuria after subtotal NPX thus originates largely from glomeruli with minimal structural abnormalities. The defect in size selectivity is largely attributed to the prevailing high PGC, producing large, nonselective channels on the glomerular capillary wall. The observations raise the possibility that in chronic renal diseases, the reduction in proteinuria often seen after therapeutic measures, including antihypertensive medication, may reflect their functional effect on the relatively intact glomeruli rather than their structure-sparing effect on severely damaged glomeruli, which contribute little to the proteinuria.