Rhabdomyosarcomas constitute a collection of childhood malignancies thought to arise as a consequence of regulatory disruption of skeletal muscle progenitor cell growth and differentiation. Our understanding of the pathogenesis of this neoplasm has recently benefited from the study of normal and malignant myogenic cells in vitro, facilitating the identification of diagnostic cytogenetic markers and the elucidation of mechanisms by which myogenesis is regulated. It is now appreciated that the delicate balance between proliferation and differentiation, mutually exclusive yet intimately associated processes, is normally controlled in large part through the action of a multitude of growth factors, whose signals are interpreted by members of the MyoD family of helix - loop - helix proteins, and key regulatory cell cycle factors. The latter have proven to be frequent targets of mutational events that subvert myogenesis and promote the development of rhabdomyosarcoma. Although significant progress has been made in the treatment of rhabdomyosarcoma, patients presenting with metastatic disease or certain high risk features are still faced with a dismal prognosis. Only now are genetically engineered mouse models becoming available that are certain to provide fresh insights into the molecular/genetic pathways by which rhabdomyosarcomas arise and progress, and to suggest novel avenues of therapeutic opportunity.