Erythropoietin (EPO) has been used widely for the treatment of anaemia associated with chronic kidney disease and cancer chemotherapy for nearly 20 years. More recently, EPO has been found to interact with its receptor (EPO-R) expressed in a large variety of non-haematopoietic tissues to induce a range of cytoprotective cellular responses, including mitogenesis, angiogenesis, inhibition of apoptosis and promotion of vascular repair through mobilization of endothelial progenitor cells from the bone marrow. Administration of EPO or its analogue, darbepoetin, promotes impressive renoprotection in experimental ischaemic and toxic acute renal failure, as evidenced by suppressed tubular epithelial apoptosis, enhanced tubular epithelial proliferation and hastened functional recovery. This effect is still apparent when administration is delayed up to 6 h after the onset of injury and can be dissociated from its haematological effects. Based on these highly encouraging results, at least one large randomized controlled trial of EPO therapy in ischaemic acute renal failure is currently underway. Preliminary experimental and clinical evidence also indicates that EPO may be renoprotective in chronic kidney disease. The purpose of the present article is to review the renoprotective benefits of different protocols of EPO therapy in the settings of acute and chronic kidney failure and the potential mechanisms underpinning these renoprotective actions. Gaining further insight into the pleiotropic actions of EPO will hopefully eventuate in much-needed, novel therapeutic strategies for patients with kidney disease.