Numerous murine (mouse and rat) models of polycystic kidney disease (PKD) have been described in which the mutant phenotype results from a spontaneous mutation or engineering via chemical mutagenesis, transgenic technologies, or gene-specific targeting in mouse orthologs of human PKD genes. These murine phenotypes closely resemble human PKD, with common abnormalities observed in tubular epithelia, the interstitial compartment, and the extracellular matrix of cystic kidneys. In both human and murine PKD, genetic background appears to modulate the renal cystic phenotype. In murine models, these putative modifying effects have been dissected into discrete factors called quantitative trait loci and genetically mapped. Several lines of experimental evidence support the hypothesis that PKD genes and their modifiers may define pathways involved in cystogenesis and PKD progression. Among the various pathway abnormalities described in murine PKD, recent provocative data indicate that structural and/or functional defects in the primary apical cilia of tubular epithelia may play a key role in PKD pathogenesis. This review describes the most widely studied murine models; highlights the data regarding specific gene defects and genetic modifiers; summarizes the data from these models that have advanced our understanding of PKD pathogenesis; and examines the effect of various therapeutic interventions in murine PKD.