Polycystic kidney diseases are characterized by the progressive expansion of multiple cystic lesions, which compromise the function of normal parenchyma. Throughout the course of these diseases, renal tubular function and structure are altered, changing the tubular microenvironment and ultimately causing the formation and progressive expansion of cystic lesions. Renal tubules are predisposed to cystogenesis when a germ line mutation is inherited in either the human PKD1 or PKD2 genes in autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) or when a homozygous mutation in Tg737 is inherited in the orpk mouse model of autosomal recessive polycystic kidney disease (ARPKD). Recent information strongly suggests that the protein products of these disease genes may form a macromolecular signaling structure, the polycystin complex, which regulates fundamental aspects of renal epithelial development and cell biology. Here, we re-examine the cellular pathophysiology of renal cyst formation and enlargement in the context of our current understanding of the molecular genetics of ADPKD and ARPKD.