The purpose of this study was to characterize the spectrum of renal lesions associated with plasma cell dyscrasias from a population of patients who had renal disease identified by kidney biopsy. Thirty-six patients (2.6% of 1361 kidney specimens examined over 6 years) had evidence of monotypical light chain with or without concomitant heavy chain deposition. A variety of lesions was found, including (a) AL-amyloid and glomerular nonamyloid light chain deposition manifesting as nodular, membranoproliferative, mesangioproliferative, and 'minimal-change' glomerulopathies; (b) fibrillary glomerulopathy; (c) tubulointerstitial lesions (cast nephropathy, acute tubular necrosis, and tubulointerstitial nephritis); and (d) vascular (arterioles and small and medium-sized arteries) lesions. AL-amyloid was the most common renal lesion (39%), nonamyloid deposition occurred second most commonly (33%), and cast nephropathy ('myeloma kidney') was third most frequent (14%). Clinical and laboratory manifestations of a plasma cell dyscrasia were frequently subtle. Immunoelectrophoresis of both serum and urine did not demonstrate a monotypical light chain or immunoglobulin in almost 35% of this population. Thus, the correct diagnosis was not considered in the majority of these patients before biopsy. Progressive deterioration of renal function was common with all of the lesions, except for proximal tubule injury, which tended to improve over the period of study. Renal biopsy with careful examination for monotypical light chain with or without associated heavy chain deposition using immunofluorescence or immunoelectron microscopy was crucial in identifying and characterizing the varied lesions associated with lymphoplasmacytic disorders.