MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNA molecules that regulate gene expression. They have important roles during kidney development, homeostasis and disease. In particular, miRNAs participate in the onset and progression of tubulointerstitial sclerosis and end-stage glomerular lesions that occur in various forms of chronic kidney disease (CKD). Therefore, miRNAs represent potential new therapeutic targets for a debilitating disease that continues to increase in prevalence worldwide and for which fully effective therapies are lacking. Several lines of research aimed at improving common CKD diagnostic tools and avoiding invasive kidney biopsies have also identified circulating miRNAs as possible diagnostic and even prognostic biomarkers of kidney disease. This Review discusses current understanding of the function of miRNAs in CKD, focusing on functions specifically involved in the transforming growth factor β1 pathway, which is activated in CKD. miRNAs that, according to available evidence, seem to be involved in diabetic nephropathy, IgA nephropathy, lupus nephritis, polycystic kidney disease and graft rejection, are also discussed.