Quantitative bone histology (on undecalcified sections following double tetracycline labeling), radiographs, and biochemistry were studied in 47 children, ags 1 to 17 years, with glomerular filtration rates (GFR) below 80 ml/min/1.73 m2. The earliest histologic change was an increased osteoid surface accompanied by increased osteoblast and tetracycline surfaces. However, significant bone disease (increased osteoclastic surface, fibrosis, increased osteoid area, increased mineralization lag time, and reduced tetracycline uptake at osteoid surfaces) occurred only at GFR below 30 ml/min/1.73 m2. Radiographs and alkaline phosphatase were normal in 25% of children with significant bone disease; parathyroid hormone was increased in 48% of children without bone disease. Thus, these noninvasive investigations were poor predictors of disease presence. GFR was the most sensitive indicator because bone disease occurred only at GFR below 30 ml/min/1.73 m2 and was present in all children with GFR below 20 ml/min/1.73 m2. It was concluded that bone histology is required for early detection of bone disease and is an essential tool in experimental studies of renal osteodystrophy. However, because the level of GFR will indicate the presence or absence of bone disease in most children, bone biopsy can be avoided generally in clinical practice.