Malignant hyperthermia is an autosomal-dominant inherited disorder of the skeletal muscle cell characterized by a hypermetabolic response to all commonly used inhalational anaesthetics and depolarizing muscle relaxants. The clinical syndrome includes muscle rigidity, hypercapnia, tachycardia and myoglobinuria as result of increased carbon dioxide production, oxygen consumption and muscle membrane breakdown. In human beings and animals susceptible to malignant hyperthermia, it is generally accepted that an increase in the level of myoplasmic free calcium is the cause of the syndrome. Various hypotheses have been proposed to account for the increase of intracellular calcium levels, e.g. a defect in the calcium release channel of the sarcoplasmic reticulum (ryanodine receptor), an abnormality of the excitation-contraction coupling mechanisms, or alterations in second messenger systems of skeletal muscles. This review gives an overview of the main features of this disease and recent advances in research including pathophysiology, treatment, diagnosis and genetics as well as association with other disorders.