Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) is a common Mendelian disorder, occurring in approximately 1 in 1000 births and accounting for 8% to 10% of cases of end-stage renal disease (ESRD). Mutations of 2 genes, PKD1 and PKD2, account for the disease in approximately 80% to 85% and 10% to 15% of families respectively. The gene products (polycystin 1 and 2) of PKD1 and PKD2 are plasma membrane proteins and components of a novel signalling pathway that regulates epithelial cell growth and differentiation. Significant inter- and intrafamilial renal disease variability in ADPKD has been well documented and is influenced by both germline and somatic genetic events. Specifically, genetic locus heterogeneity and 2 rare Mendelian syndromes have been shown to strongly influence the variability of interfamilial renal disease, and as-yet-unknown genetic and environmental factors likely modify both inter- and intrafamilial renal disease severity. Furthermore, individual cyst formation in ADPKD represents an aberration of monoclonal growth triggered by somatic PKD1 or PKD2 mutations within individual epithelial cells. Current studies are in progress to identify major genetic and environmental modifiers of renal disease variability. A thorough knowledge of these determinants will allow better patient risk assessment and development of mechanism-based therapy in ADPKD.