Lupus nephritis (LN) is a common manifestation of systemic lupus erythematosus that can lead to irreversible renal impairment. Although the prognosis of LN has improved substantially over the past 50 years, outcomes have plateaued in the USA in the past 20 years as immunosuppressive therapies have failed to reverse disease in more than half of treated patients. This failure might reflect disease complexity and heterogeneity, as well as social and economic barriers to health-care access that can delay intervention until after damage has already occurred. LN progression is still poorly understood and involves multiple cell types and both immune and non-immune mechanisms. Single-cell analysis of intrinsic renal cells and infiltrating cells from patients with LN is a new approach that will help to define the pathways of renal injury at a cellular level. Although many new immune-modulating therapies are being tested in the clinic, the development of therapies to improve regeneration of the injured kidney and to prevent fibrosis requires a better understanding of the mechanisms of LN progression. This mechanistic understanding, together with the development of clinical measures to evaluate risk and detect early disease and better access to expert health-care providers, should improve outcomes for patients with LN.