Ca(2+) plays a central role in the function of neurons as the trigger for neurotransmitter release, and many aspects of neuronal activity, from rapid modulation to changes in gene expression, are controlled by Ca(2+). These actions of Ca(2+) must be mediated by Ca(2+)-binding proteins, including calmodulin, which is involved in Ca(2+) regulation, not only in neurons, but in most other cell types. A large number of other EF-hand-containing Ca(2+)-binding proteins are known. One family of these, the neuronal calcium sensor (NCS) proteins, has a restricted expression in retinal photoreceptors or neurons and neuroendocrine cells, suggesting that they have specialized roles in these cell types. Two members of the family (recoverin and guanylate cyclase-activating protein) have established roles in the regulation of phototransduction. Despite close sequence similarities, the NCS proteins have distinct neuronal distributions, suggesting that they have different functions. Recent work has begun to demonstrate the physiological roles of members of this protein family. These include roles in the modulation of neurotransmitter release, control of cyclic nucleotide metabolism, biosynthesis of polyphosphoinositides, regulation of gene expression and in the direct regulation of ion channels. In the present review we describe the known sequences and structures of the NCS proteins, information on their interactions with target proteins and current knowledge about their cellular and physiological functions.