Phosphoinositide-dependent protein kinase 1 (PDK1) is a protein kinase that phosphorylates and activates several other protein kinases from the AGC group (which includes PKA, PKG and PKC), to which PDK1 also belongs. Recent data suggests that PDK1 specificity is achieved by regulation of its interaction with substrates and supports a rather simple model explaining how PDK1 interacts with different substrates. The data further suggests that PDK1 interacts with its substrates when they are in a particular conformation (inactive). PDK1 has the ability to recognize, interact with and phosphorylate specific substrate conformations and thus sets PDK1 at the centre of a protein conformation sensor mechanism. The PDK1-substrate interaction model describes, at a molecular level, the mechanism used by PDK1 to sense the conformation of its substrates.