Endothelin (ET) is a potent vasoconstrictory peptide with proinflammatory and profibrotic properties that exerts its biological effects through two pharmacologically distinct receptor subtypes, namely ETA and ETB. In addition to its substantial contribution to normal renal function, a large body of evidence suggests that derangement of the renal ET system is involved in the initiation and progression of chronic kidney disease (CKD) in diabetes, hypertension and glomerulonephritis. Thus, the use of ET receptor antagonists (ERAs) may offer potential novel treatment strategies in CKD. Recent literature on the role of the renal ET system in the healthy kidney was reviewed. In addition, an unbiased PubMed search was performed for studies published during the last 5 years that addressed the effects of ERAs in CKD. A particular objective was to extract information regarding whether selective or nonselective ERAs may have therapeutic potential in humans. ET-1 acts primarily as an autocrine or paracrine factor in the kidney. In normal physiology, ET-1 promotes diuresis and natriuresis by local production and action through ETB receptors in the renal medulla. In pathology, ET-1 mediates vasoconstriction, mesangial-cell proliferation, extracellular matrix production and inflammation, effects that are primarily conveyed by ETA receptors. Results obtained in animal models and in humans with the use of ERAs in CKD are encouraging; nevertheless, it is still under debate which receptor subtype should be targeted. According to most studies, selective inhibition of ETA receptors appears superior compared with nonselective ERAs because this approach does not interfere with the natriuretic, antihypertensive and ET clearance effects of ETB receptors. Although preliminary data in humans are promising, the potential role of ERAs in patients with CKD and the question of which receptor subtype should be targeted can only be clarified in randomized clinical trials.