Acute kidney injury (AKI) is common (especially during critical illness), increasing in incidence, and is associated with considerable morbidity and mortality. The Risk, Injury, Failure, Loss, and End-stage renal disease (RIFLE) classification currently provides a standardized estimate of incidence and outcomes from AKI. Despite advances in the understanding of the pathogenesis of human AKI, our ability to assess kidney function is limited and functional impairment poorly correlates with structural injury to the kidneys. Emerging novel biomarkers are, however, likely to further enhance risk stratification, facilitate early diagnosis, enable early enrollment in therapeutic trials, and assess prognosis. Sepsis remains the leading cause of AKI among the critically ill and over the past few years insights into the pathogenesis of AKI in sepsis are beginning to shift attention from renal blood flow to inflammation-mediated organ injury. Emerging evidence suggests that survivors of AKI incur long-term risks for developing chronic kidney disease and end-stage renal disease compared with those without AKI. Despite decades of research, no specific therapy for AKI other than supportive care currently exists and further work is required to better understand the pathogenesis of AKI during critical illness and to develop novel treatments.