A low-protein (LP) diet has been associated with amelioration of renal function in glomerulosclerosis (GS). However, the mechanisms involved are still unclear. We have used a mouse transgenic for bovine growth hormone (GH), which develops progressive GS and exhibits consistently elevated levels of circulating GH and insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-1, to study the effect of dietary protein restriction. LP (6% protein) and normal-protein (NP, 20% protein) diets were maintained for 30 weeks in mice with established GS of mild/moderate degree. The degree of GS was markedly attenuated in LP compared to NP mice. Quantitative analysis revealed a significantly lower GS index (1.4 +/- 0.9 in LP vs. 2.8 +/- 0.8 in NP) and glomerular volume (0.8 x 10(6) +/- 0.1 x 10(6) microm(3) in LP vs. 1.2 x 10(6) +/- 0.1 x 10(6) microm(3) in NP) in mice with restricted protein intake. These morphologic changes were accompanied by a significant reduction in renal expression of alpha(1) type-IV collagen (2.4-fold) and tenascin (1.4-fold) in LP mice.Serum IGF-1 decreased by 40% and showed a significant correlation with alpha(1) type-IV collagen expression with the LP diet. The present finding supports the use of the LP diet to decelerate the progression of GS and furthermore suggests that one of the mechanisms involved in this process is the GH/IGF-1 regulation by protein intake.