Podocyte injuries are associated with progression of diabetic nephropathy (DN). Apelin, an adipocyte-derived peptide, has been reported to be a promoting factor for DN. In this study, we aim to determine whether apelin promotes progression of DN by inducing podocyte dysfunction. kk-Ay mice were used as models for DN. Apelin and its antagonist, F13A were intraperitoneally administered for 4 weeks, respectively. Renal function and foot process proteins were analysed to evaluate the effects of apelin on kk-Ay mice and podocytes. Apelin increased albuminuria and decreased podocyte foot process proteins expression in kk-Ay mice, which is consistent with the results that apelin receptor (APLNR) levels increased in glomeruli of patients or mice with DN. In cultured podocytes, high glucose increased APLNR expression and apelin administration was associated with increased permeability and decreased foot process proteins levels. All these dysfunctions were associated with decreased 26S proteasome activities and increased polyubiquitinated proteins in both kk-Ay mice and cultured podocytes, as demonstrated by 26S proteasome activation with cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) or oleuropein. These effects seemed to be related to endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, as apelin increased C/EBP homologous protein (CHOP) and peiFα levels while cAMP or oleuropein reduced it in high glucose and apelin treated podocytes. These results suggest that apelin induces podocyte dysfunction in DN through ER stress which was induced by decreased proteasome activities in podocytes.