Lipid mediators can exert their effects by interactions with well-characterised cell surface G-protein-linked receptors. Recently, a group of intracellular receptors have been identified that are activated by a large variety of lipid-derived mediators. Amongst these novel targets, the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs), a family of three (PPARalpha, beta/delta and gamma) nuclear receptor/transcription factors have become a major area for investigation. PPARs are found throughout the body, where they have diverse roles regulating lipid homeostasis, cellular differentiation, proliferation and the immune response. There is a great interest, therefore, in the roles of PPARs in a variety of pathological conditions, including diabetes, atherosclerosis, cancer and chronic inflammation. Although, a number of naturally occurring compounds can activate PPARs, it has been difficult, as yet, to characterise any of these mediators as truly endogenous ligands. These findings have lead to the suggestion that PPARs may act just as general lipid sensors. Acting as lipid sensors, PPARs may take changes in lipid/fatty acid balance in the diet or local metabolism and translate them to tissue-specific ligands, exerting tissue-specific effects. Using classical pharmacological criteria for endogenous mediator classification we will critically discuss the variety of pathways for putative ligand generation.