The core protein of hepatitis C virus (HCV) is believed to form the capsid shell of virus particles. Maturation of the protein is achieved through cleavage by host cell proteases to give a product of 21 000 MW, which is found in tissue culture systems and sera from infected individuals. However, efficient propagation of the virus is not possible at present in tissue culture. Hence, studies have focused on the properties of the core protein and its possible role in pathologies associated with HCV infection. This review describes key features of the polypeptide and the status of current knowledge on its ability to influence several cellular processes.