In this review, we define the two major tissue types, epithelium and mesenchyme, and we describe the transformations (transdifferentiations) of epithelium to mesenchyme (EMT) and mesenchyme to epithelium (MET) that occur during embryonic development. The differentiation of the metanephric blastema provides a striking example of MET. Differentiation of metanephric epithelium is promoted by matrix molecules and receptors (nidogen, laminins, alpha 6 integrins), hepatic growth factor/scatter factor, and products of the genes wnt-1, wnt-4, and Pax-2. Transformation of MDCK epithelium to mesenchyme-like cells is promoted in vitro by antibodies to E-cadherin, products of v-src, v-ras, and v-mos, and by manipulation of the epithelium on collagen gels. Suspension in collagen gel, transforming growth factors, and c-fos have also been shown to promote EMT in epithelia. We present studies from our laboratory showing that alpha 5 beta 1 integrin has a role in the EMT of lens epithelium that is brought about by suspension in collagen gel. Our laboratory has also shown that transfection with the E-cadherin gene induces embryonic corneal fibroblasts to undergo MET and that this MET is enhanced by interaction of the differentiating epithelium with living fibroblasts. This review calls attention to the roles that EMT and MET might have in kidney pathologies and urges further study of the involvement of these phenomena in renal development, renal injury, and renal malignancy.