Angiopoietin-1 (Ang-1) is a secreted growth factor which binds to and activates the Tie-2 receptor tyrosine kinase. The factor enhances endothelial cell survival and capillary morphogenesis, and also limits capillary permeability. Ang-2 binds the same receptor but fails to activate it: hence, it is a natural inhibitor of Ang-1. Ang-2 destabilises capillary integrity, facilitating sprouting when ambient vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) levels are high, but causing vessel regression when VEGF levels are low. Tie-1 is a Tie-2 homologue but its ligands are unknown. Angiopoietin and Tie genes are expressed in the mammalian metanephros, the precursor of the adult kidney, where they may play a role in endothelial precursor growth. Tie-1-expressing cells can be detected in the metanephros when it first forms and, based on transplantation experiments, these precursors contribute to the generation of glomerular capillaries. During glomerular maturation, podocyte-derived Ang-1 and mesangial-cell-derived Ang-2 may affect growth of nascent capillaries. After birth, vasa rectae acquire their mature configuration and Ang-2 expressed by descending limbs of loops of Henle would be well placed to affect the growth of this medullary microcirculation. Finally, preliminary data implicate angiopoietins in deregulated vessel growth in Wilms' kidney tumours and in vascular remodelling after nephrotoxicity.