Antibodies against laminin, which is a defined glycoprotein of basement membranes, were produced in sheep and affinity purified by immunoadsorption on laminin-Sepharose (S alpha L). When injected intravenously into rats, S alpha L rapidly bound in a linear pattern to the glomerular basement membrane (GBM) in the peripheral and mesangial regions of all glomeruli, and, when greater than 0.5 mg S alpha L was injected, to some tubular BM as well. 1-2 h after the injection of conjugates of horseradish peroxidase (HRP) and S alpha L, HRP reaction product was present throughout the full thickness of the GBM and mesangial matrix. [125I]S alpha L binding to the kidney in vivo increased linearly over the dose range of 40-950 micrograms of IgG and accounted for approximately 2% of the injected dose/g kidney. When 4 mg of [125I]S alpha L was injected, 1.5% or 62 micrograms/g kidney was bound. Proteinuria did not develop within 7 wk of injection in rats that received 0.5-1.6 mg of S alpha L. In contrast, all animals that received injections of 4 mg of S alpha L gradually became proteinuric within 3-6 wk. Thickening, reduplication, and flocculent subendothelial deposits were observed in the GBM of these animals. In addition, mononuclear cells adhered to the GBM and infiltrated beneath the endothelium. However, the deposition of rat C3 was infrequently observed, and rat IgG was not seen in the glomeruli of any rat that received S alpha L. 10 wk after injection, much greater amounts of S alpha L appeared within the mesangium than the peripheral GBM. These results demonstrate that the interaction of S alpha L with the GBM, possibly in concert with infiltrating mononuclear cells, gradually altered the structure and permeability characteristics of the glomerulus independent of a host anti-S alpha L humoral response.