c-Kit is a receptor tyrosine kinase that binds stem cell factor (SCF). Structurally, c-Kit contains five immunoglobulin-like domains extracellularly and a catalytic domain divided into two regions by a 77 amino acid insert intracellularly. Studies in white spotting and steel mice have shown that functional SCF and c-Kit are critical in the survival and development of stem cells involved in hematopoiesis, pigmentation and reproduction. Mutations in c-Kit are associated with a variety of human diseases. Interaction of SCF with c-Kit rapidly induces receptor dimerization and increases in autophosphorylation activity. Downstream of c-Kit, multiple signal transduction components are activated, including phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase, Src family members, the JAK/STAT pathway and the Ras-Raf-MAP kinase cascade. Structure-function studies have begun to address the role of these signaling components in SCF-mediated responses. This review will focus on the biochemical mechanism of action of SCF in hematopoietic cells.