Occlusion of the renal arteries can threaten the viability of the kidney when severe, in addition to accelerating hypertension and circulatory congestion. Renal artery stenting procedures have evolved from a treatment mainly for renovascular hypertension to a maneuver capable of recovering threatened renal function in patients with 'ischemic nephropathy' and improving management of congestive heart failure. Improved catheter design and techniques have reduced, but not eliminated, hazards associated with renovascular stenting. Expanded use of endovascular stent grafts to treat abdominal aortic aneurysms has introduced a new indication for renal artery stenting to protect the renal circulation when grafts cross the origins of the renal arteries. Although controversial, prospective randomized trials to evaluate the added benefit of revascularization to current medical therapy for atherosclerotic renal artery stenosis until now have failed to identify major benefits regarding either renal function or blood pressure control. These studies have been limited by selection bias and have been harshly criticized. While studies of tissue oxygenation using blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) magnetic resonance establish that kidneys can adapt to reduced blood flow to some degree, more severe occlusive disease leads to cortical hypoxia associated with microvascular rarefaction inflammatory injury, and fibrosis. Current research is directed toward identifying pathways of irreversible kidney injury due to vascular occlusion and to increase the potential for renal repair after restoring renal artery patency. The role of nephrologists likely will focus upon recognizing the limits of renal adaptation to vascular disease and identifying kidneys truly at risk for ischemic injury at a time point when renal revascularization can still be of benefit to recovering kidney function.