The recognition of a central role for the endothelium in the development of kidney disease or the development of vascular lesions in patients with established renal dysfunction has led to the emergence of methods to test different aspects of endothelium function, including in endothelium injury and repair. Endothelial-cell activation is associated with the shedding of components of the glycocalyx, adhesion molecules and endothelial microparticles into the circulation. This process may eventually result in the detachment of endothelial cells and recruitment of circulating myeloid and progenitor cells that are involved in vascular remodeling and repair. Circulating markers of endothelium activation may therefore represent novel markers of vessel wall injury. This Review describes the biology of these circulating markers of vessel wall injury, the methodologies used to measure them, and their possible relevance to patients with kidney disease.