The collecting duct system of the metanephric kidney develops from the ureteric bud, an outgrowth from the caudal end of the Wolffian duct. The ureteric bud is induced to form by signals emanating from a specific area of intermediate mesoderm, which it immediately invades. In response to further mesenchyme-derived signals, the ureteric bud ramifies to form a tree-like collecting duct system, which in turn signals clumps of the mesenchyme cells that surround it to differentiate into epithelial nephrons. The morphogenesis of the collecting duct system is driven by two processes--growth and branching--which are to some extent separable. Each depends on diffusible signals, a number of which have been identified in recent years; growth promoters include hepatocyte growth factor and activin, while ramogens include glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor, neurturin and persephin. Arborisation also depends on matrix components, including proteoglycans, integrins and their ligands, and metalloproteinases, such as matrix metalloproteinase-9, that are involved in matrix remodelling. So far, little progress has been made in elucidating the intracellular pathways responsible for translating growth factor "instructions" into morphological change, but a role for some intracellular components, such as protein kinase C, formins and the cytoskeleton, is implied by recent experimental data. More information on these internal pathways of control is expected over the next few years.