It is becoming clear that mutations in the KVLQT1, human "ether-a-go-go" related gene, cardiac voltage-dependent sodium channel gene, minK and MiRP1 genes, respectively, are responsible for the LQT1, LQT2, LQT3, LQT5 and LQT6 variants of the Romano-Ward syndrome, characterized by autosomal dominant transmission and no deafness. The much rarer Jervell-Lange-Nielsen syndrome (with marked QT prolongation and sensorineural deafness) arises when a child inherits mutant KVLQT1 or minK alleles from both parents. In addition, some families are not linked to the known genetic loci. Cardiac voltage-dependent sodium channel gene encodes the cardiac sodium channel, and long QT syndrome (LQTS) mutations prolong action potentials by increasing inward plateau sodium current. The other mutations cause a decrease in net repolarizing current by reducing potassium currents through "dominant negative" or "loss of function" mechanisms. Polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (torsade de pointes) is thought to be initiated by early after-depolarizations in the Purkinje system and maintained by reentry in the myocardium. Clinical presentations vary with the specific gene affected and the specific mutation. Nevertheless, patients with identical mutations can also present differently, and some patients with LQTS mutations may have no manifest baseline phenotype. The question of whether the latter situation is one of high risk for administration of QT prolonging drugs or during myocardial ischemia is under active investigation. More generally, the identification of LQTS genes has provided tremendous new insights for our understanding of normal cardiac electrophysiology and its perturbation in a wide range of conditions associated with sudden death. It seems likely that the approach of applying information from the genetics of uncommon congenital syndromes to the study of common acquired diseases will be an increasingly important one in the next millennium.