This seminar covers the most recent information on definition, epidemiology, and clinical causes of acute renal failure. The mechanisms of acute prerenal failure and the potential interference by commonly used drugs of autoregulation of renal blood flow are discussed. We summarise some basic and recent insights into the haemodynamic and cellular pathophysiological mechanisms, mainly of postischaemic acute renal failure. Recent findings on the repair mechanisms of renal injury and the potential future therapeutic possibilities are discussed. We provide some differential diagnostic approaches for patients with acute renal failure and summarise prevention of the disorder and management of critically ill patients by dialysis and by other means. Finally, some information on the influence of gene polymorphisms on the prognosis of acute renal failure is given.