The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) folds and modifies proteins; however, during conditions of cellular stress, unfolded proteins accumulate in the ER and activate the unfolded protein response (UPR). The UPR, also referred to as the ER stress response, activates three distinct signaling cascades that are designed to globally reduce transcription and translation. The three major arms of the mammalian UPR include 1) protein kinase RNA (PKR)-like ER kinase (PERK), 2) inositol-requiring protein-1 (IRE1α), and 3) activating transcription factor-6 (ATF6) pathways. The PERK pathway rapidly attenuates protein translation, whereas the ATF6 and IRE1α cascades transcriptionally upregulate ER chaperone genes that promote proper folding and ER-associated degradation (ERAD) of proteins. This integrated response in turn allows the folding machinery of the ER to catch up with the backlog of unfolded proteins. The ER stress response plays a role in a number of pathophysiological processes, including pancreatic β-cell failure and apoptosis. The goals of the current review are to familiarize investigators with cellular and tissue activation of this response in the rodent and human diabetic kidney. Additionally, we will review therapeutic modulators of the ER stress response and discuss their efficacy in models of diabetic kidney disease. The ER stress response has both protective and deleterious features. A better understanding of the molecular pathways regulated during this process in a cell- and disease-specific manner could reveal novel therapeutic strategies in chronic renal diseases, including diabetic kidney disease.