Renal ischemia-reperfusion (I/R) injury can be caused by cardiac surgery, renal vascular obstruction, and kidney transplantation, mainly leading to acute kidney injury (AKI), which is complicated by lack of effective preventative and therapeutic strategies. Ghrelin has recently been reported to possess anti-inflammatory properties in several types of cells; however, little attention has been given to the role of ghrelin in I/R-induced AKI. The aim of this study is to explore the role of ghrelin in I/R-induced AKI. In this study, an I/R-induced rat AKI model and a hypoxia-induced NRK-52E cell I/R model were successfully constructed. Ghrelin expression was increased significantly in these rat and cell models. After enhancing ghrelin level by injecting exogenous ghrelin into rats or transfecting a ghrelin-pcDNA3.1 vector into renal tubular epithelial cells, we observed that I/R-induced AKI can be ameliorated by ghrelin, as shown by alterations in histology, as well as changes in serum creatinine (SCr) level, cell apoptosis, and the levels of inflammatory factors. Based on the importance of microRNA-21 (miR-21) in renal disease and the modulation effect of ghrelin on miR-21 in gastric epithelial cells, we tested whether miR-21 participates in the protective effect of ghrelin on I/R-induced AKI. Ghrelin could upregulate the PI3K/AKT signaling pathway by increasing the miR-21 level, which led to the protective effect of ghrelin on I/R-induced AKI by inhibiting the inflammatory response and renal tubular epithelial cell apoptosis. Our research identifies that ghrelin can ameliorate I/R-induced AKI by upregulating miR-21, which advances the understanding of mechanisms by which ghrelin ameliorates I/R-induced AKI.