Podocytes are terminally differentiated cells of the glomerular filtration barrier that react with hypertrophy in the course of injury such as in membranous nephropathy (MGN). The neuronal deubiquitinase ubiquitin C-terminal hydrolase L1 (UCH-L1) is expressed and activated in podocytes of human and rodent MGN. UCH-L1 regulates the mono-ubiquitin pool and induces accumulation of poly-ubiquitinated proteins in affected podocytes. Here, we investigated the role of UCH-L1 in podocyte hypertrophy and in the homeostasis of the hypertrophy associated "model protein" p27(Kip1). A better understanding of the basic mechanisms leading to podocyte hypertrophy is crucial for the development of specific therapies in MGN. In human and rat MGN, hypertrophic podocytes exhibited a simultaneous up-regulation of UCH-L1 and of cytoplasmic p27(Kip1) content. Functionally, inhibition of UCH-L1 activity and knockdown or inhibition of UCH-L1 attenuated podocyte hypertrophy by decreasing the total protein content in isolated glomeruli and in cultured podocytes. In contrast, UCH-L1 levels and activity increased podocyte hypertrophy and total protein content in culture, specifically of cytoplasmic p27(Kip1). UCH-L1 enhanced cytoplasmic p27(Kip1) levels by nuclear export and decreased poly-ubiquitination and proteasomal degradation of p27(Kip1). In parallel, UCH-L1 increased podocyte turnover, migration and cytoskeletal rearrangement, which are associated with known oncogenic functions of cytoplasmic p27(Kip1) in cancer. We propose that UCH-L1 induces podocyte hypertrophy in MGN by increasing the total protein content through altered degradation and accumulation of proteins such as p27(Kip1) in the cytoplasm of podocytes. Modification of both UCH-L1 activity and levels could be a new therapeutic avenue to podocyte hypertrophy in MGN.