The first signalling genes acting in the inductive interactions in the kidney have now been identified. Differentiation of the permanent kidney or the metanephros is critically dependent on inductive signalling between the nephrogenic mesenchyme and ureteric bud epithelium. Further inductive interactions occur between developing nephrons, interstitial stroma, endothelial cells and neurones. Glial-cell-line-derived neurotrophic factor is a signal for the ureteric bud initiation and branching, and Wnt4 is an autocrine epithelializing signal at the pretubular stage of nephron formation. The signals for renal angiogenesis and innervation are less well defined, but seem to include vascular endothelial growth factor and neurotrophins, at least. The ureteric-bud-derived signal for induction of the nephrogenic mesenchyme (to bring the cells to the condensate stage) is not yet known, but fibroblast growth factor 2 is a good candidate. None of the signalling genes identified from the embryonic kidney is specific to the organ, which raises some general questions. How do the organs develop from similar rudiments to various patterns with different cell types and functions? Does the information for organ-specific differentiation pathways retain in the epithelial or mesenchymal compartment? The present, rather fragmentary molecular data would favour the view that similar molecules acting in different combinations and developmental sequences, rather than few organ-specific master genes, could be responsible for the divergence of patterning.