Progressive interstitial fibrosis accompanied by loss of renal tubules and interstitial capillaries typifies all progressive renal diseases. Dynamic and complex, the process evidently overlaps with matrix remodeling; it may even be reversible. The interstitial fibrous tissue comprises several normal and novel matrix proteins, proteoglycans, and glycoproteins. Interstitial myofibroblasts are a major site of matrix protein overproduction, although resident fibroblasts, tubular cells, and inflammatory cells may contribute. Inadequate matrix degradation also appears to contribute to the fibrogenic process. Two protease cascades, the metalloproteinases and the plasminogen activator/ plasmin family of serine proteases, are implicated in the turnover of interstitial matrix proteins; upregulated expression of protease inhibitors has been observed in each. Increased tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-1 and plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 levels suggest that the intrinsic renal activity of the metalloproteinases and serine proteases are inhibited while matrix proteins accumulate in the interstitium. Several signals that may direct the interstitial fibrogenic process have been identified, but not yet proved to cause it. Upregulated expression of transforming growth factor beta-1, the proteotypic fibrogenic cytokine, has been observed in experimental and human models; it probably does not act alone. There may be supportive roles for platelet-derived growth factor, interleukin-1, basic fibroblast growth factor, angiotensin II, and endothelin-1. Although it is not known why interstitial fibrosis compromises renal function, atrophy of renal tubules may be pivotal. Ischemic necrosis and/or apoptosis may generate nonfunctioning atubular and sclerotic glomeruli. Future studies must delineate the molecular basis of the differences between renal repair and renal destruction by fibrosis, two processes that share many common features.