Acute kidney injury (AKI) is a major burden on health systems and may arise from multiple initiating insults, including ischaemia-reperfusion injury, cardiovascular surgery, radiocontrast administration and sepsis. Similarly, the incidence and prevalence of chronic kidney disease (CKD) continues to increase, with significant morbidity and mortality. Moreover, an increasing number of AKI patients survive to develop CKD and end-stage renal disease. Although the mechanisms for the development of AKI and progression to CKD remain poorly understood, initial impairment of oxygen balance likely constitutes a common pathway, causing renal tissue hypoxia and ATP starvation that, in turn, induce extracellular matrix production, collagen deposition and fibrosis. Thus, possible future strategies for one or both conditions may involve dopamine, loop diuretics, atrial natriuretic peptide and inhibitors of inducible nitric oxide synthase, substances that target kidney oxygen consumption and regulators of renal oxygenation, such as nitric oxide and heme oxygenase-1. © 2012 The Authors Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology © 2012 Wiley Publishing Asia Pty Ltd.