This review summarizes our current understanding of intracellular events in the initiation of kidney stone formation, focusing on results from studies using renal epithelial cells in vitro. Such studies have shown that oxalate – either in crystalline or in soluble form – triggers a spectrum of responses in renal cells that favor stone formation, including alterations in membrane surface properties that promote crystal attachment and alterations in cell viability that provide debris for crystal nucleation. Activation of cytosolic PLA2 appears to play an important role in oxalate actions, triggering a signaling cascade that generates several lipid mediators (arachidonic acid, AA; lysophosphatidylcholine, Lyso-PC; ceramide) that act on key intracellular targets (mitochondria, nucleus). The net effect is increased production of reactive oxygen molecules (that in turn affect other cellular processes), an increase in cell death and an induction of a number of genes in surviving cells, some of which may promote proliferation for replacement of damaged cells, or may promote secretion of urinary macromolecules that serve to modulate crystal formation. A scheme is provided that explains how such oxalate-induced alterations could initiate stone formation in vivo.