Mammalian homologues of the Drosophila transient receptor potential (TRP) channel gene encode a family of at least 20 ion channel proteins. They are widely distributed in mammalian tissues, but their specific physiological functions are largely unknown. A common theme that links the TRP channels is their activation or modulation by phosphatidylinositol signal transduction pathways. The channel subunits have six transmembrane domains that most probably assemble into tetramers to form non-selective cationic channels, which allow for the influx of calcium ions into cells. Three subgroups comprise the TRP channel family; the best understood of these mediates responses to painful stimuli. Other proposed functions include repletion of intracellular calcium stores, receptor-mediated excitation and modulation of the cell cycle.