The development of the mature mammalian kidney begins with the invasion of metanephric mesenchyme by ureteric bud. Mesenchymal cells near the bud become induced and convert to an epithelium which goes on to generate the functional filtering unit of the kidney, the nephron. The collecting duct system is elaborated by the branching ureter, the growth of which is dependent upon signals from the metanephric mesenchyme. The process of reciprocal induction between ureter and mesenchyme is repeated many times over during development and is the key step in generating the overall architecture of the kidney. Genetic studies in mice have allowed researchers to begin to unravel the molecular signals that govern these early events. These experiments have revealed that a number of essential gene products are required for distinct steps in kidney organogenesis. Here we review and summarize the developmental role played by some of these molecules, especially certain transcription factors and growth factors and their receptors. Although the factors involved are far from completely known a rough framework of a molecular cascade which governs embryonic kidney development is beginning to emerge.