There is an increasing number of clinical studies suggesting that acute kidney injury (AKI) can be complicated by the onset of progressive renal disease. Indeed, given the frequency of AKI in hospitalized patients, it could potentially be a leading cause of, or contributor to, end-stage renal disease. Insights into the natural history of AKI and potential mechanisms for disease progression can be gleaned from experimental studies. Although such studies underscore the principle that AKI can ‘heal with defects', whether ongoing renal disease develops remains a subject of debate. Indeed, in the aftermath of AKI, a variety of secondary renal protective pathways are activated, which may retard or prevent severe chronic kidney disease. Furthermore, the onset of acute uremia per se may exert surprisingly potent renal protective effects. The purpose of this brief report is to review some of the clinical and experimental data that deal with these complex issues.