Cyclic nucleotide-gated (CNG) ion channels were first discovered in rod photoreceptors, where they are responsible for the primary electrical signal of the photoreceptor in response to light. CNG channels are highly specialized membrane proteins that open an ion-permeable pore across the membrane in response to the direct binding of intracellular cyclic nucleotides. CNG channels have been identified in a number of other tissues, including the brain, where their roles are only beginning to be appreciated. Recently, significant progress has been made in understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying their functional specializations. From these studies, a picture is beginning to emerge for how the binding of cyclic nucleotide is transduced into the opening of the pore and how this allosteric transition is modulated by various physiological effectors.