Because the kidney (metanephros) starts to function before completing development, its patterning and morphogenesis need to be closely integrated with its growth. This is achieved by blast cells at the kidney periphery generating new nephrons that link up to the extending collecting‐duct arborisation, while earlier‐formed and more internal nephrons are maturing and beginning to filter serum. This pattern of development requires that cell division and apoptosis be co‐ordinated in the various kidney compartments (collecting‐ducts, blast cells, metanephric mesenchyme, nephrons and vascular system). The underlying regulatory networks for cell proliferation are beginning to be unravelled, mainly through expression studies, mutation analysis and experimentation in vitro. This article summarises current knowledge of kidney growth and apoptosis, and analyses some of the 80 or so ligand–receptor pairings that seem to sustain development and growth. It also points to some unanswered questions, the most intriguing being what role does apoptosis play during normal kidney development? BioEssays 24:72–82, 2002. © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.