Eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4F (eIF4F) is a protein complex that mediates recruitment of ribosomes to mRNA. This event is the rate-limiting step for translation under most circumstances and a primary target for translational control. Functions of the constituent proteins of eIF4F include recognition of the mRNA 5' cap structure (eIF4E), delivery of an RNA helicase to the 5' region (eIF4A), bridging of the mRNA and the ribosome (eIF4G), and circularization of the mRNA via interaction with poly(A)-binding protein (eIF4G). eIF4 activity is regulated by transcription, phosphorylation, inhibitory proteins, and proteolytic cleavage. Extracellular stimuli evoke changes in phosphorylation that influence eIF4F activity, especially through the phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) and Ras signaling pathways. Viral infection and cellular stresses also affect eIF4F function. The recent determination of the structure of eIF4E at atomic resolution has provided insight about how translation is initiated and regulated. Evidence suggests that eIF4F is also implicated in malignancy and apoptosis.