A critical challenge faced by clinical nephrologists today is the escalating number of patients developing end stage renal disease, a major proportion of which is attributed to diabetic nephropathy (DN). The need for new measures to prevent and treat this disease cannot be overemphasized. To this end, modern genetic approaches provide powerful tools to investigate the etiology of DN. Human studies have already established the importance of genetic susceptibility for DN. Several major susceptibility loci have been identified using linkage studies. In addition, linkage studies in rodents have pinpointed promising chromosomal segments that influence renal traits. Besides augmenting our understanding of disease pathogenesis, these animal studies may facilitate the cloning of disease susceptibility genes in man through the identification of homologous regions that contribute to renal disease. In human diabetes, various genes have been evaluated for their risk contribution to DN. This widespread strategy has been propelled by our knowledge of the glucose-activated pathways underlying DN. Evidence has emerged that a true association does indeed exist for some candidate genes. Furthermore, the in vivo manipulation of gene expression has shown that these genes can modify features of DN in transgenic and knockout rodent models, thus corroborating the findings from human association studies. Still, the exact molecular mechanisms involving these genes remain to be fully elucidated. This formidable task may be accomplished by continuing to harness the synergy between human and experimental genetic approaches. In this respect, our review provides a first synthesis of the current literature to facilitate this challenging effort.