Several lines of evidence, mostly derived from animal studies, indicate that changes in fetal environment may affect renal development. Besides maternal hyperglycemia or drug exposure, that were recently found to alter nephrogenesis, changes in vitamin A supply to the fetus may prove to be responsible for most of the variations in nephron number found in the population. A low vitamin A status in the fetus may be a major cause of inborn nephron deficit, either as a feature of intrauterine growth retardation or independently of growth retardation. The possibility that vitamin A status may also influence renal vascular development is raised. We suggest that low vitamin A supply to the fetus plays a role in the intrauterine programming of chronic renal disease and hypertension.