This review reports the characteristics of the human surface molecule CD38, a structure not linked to a definite line and predominantly expressed in early and activated phenotypes. The CD38 molecule consists of a single chain of 46 kDa, spanning the membrane and with the carboxyl terminus located in the extracellular compartment. The CD38 molecule is also involved in the transduction of activation and proliferation signals, which are line unrestricted. The gene coding for the CD38 antigen has been cloned and used for the construction of simian and mouse transfectants expressing the human molecule. These cell models are used for the analysis of several unanswered issues, mainly concerning the in vivo function of CD38, the existence of a natural ligand and of polymorphism in the population.