The glomerular basement membrane (GBM) is the central, non-cellular layer of the glomerular filtration barrier that is situated between the two cellular components - fenestrated endothelial cells and interdigitated podocyte foot processes. The GBM is composed primarily of four types of extracellular matrix macromolecule - laminin-521, type IV collagen α3α4α5, the heparan sulphate proteoglycan agrin, and nidogen - which produce an interwoven meshwork thought to impart both size-selective and charge-selective properties. Although the composition and biochemical nature of the GBM have been known for a long time, the functional importance of the GBM versus that of podocytes and endothelial cells for establishing the glomerular filtration barrier to albumin is still debated. Together with findings from genetic studies in mice, the discoveries of four human mutations affecting GBM components in two inherited kidney disorders, Alport syndrome and Pierson syndrome, support essential roles for the GBM in glomerular permselectivity. Here, we explain in detail the proposed mechanisms whereby the GBM can serve as the major albumin barrier and discuss possible approaches to circumvent GBM defects associated with loss of permselectivity.