Podocytes of the renal glomerulus are unique cells with a complex cellular organization consisting of a cell body, major processes and foot processes. Podocyte foot processes form a characteristic interdigitating pattern with foot processes of neighboring podocytes, leaving in between the filtration slits that are bridged by the glomerular slit diaphragm. The highly dynamic foot processes contain an actin-based contractile apparatus comparable to that of smooth muscle cells or pericytes. Mutations affecting several podocyte proteins lead to rearrangement of the actin cytoskeleton, disruption of the filtration barrier and subsequent renal disease. The fact that the dynamic regulation of the podocyte cytoskeleton is vital to kidney function has led to podocytes emerging as an excellent model system for studying actin cytoskeleton dynamics in a physiological context. © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.