Myotonic dystrophy (DM)--the most common form of muscular dystrophy in adults, affecting 1/8000 individuals--is a dominantly inherited disorder with a peculiar and rare pattern of multisystemic clinical features affecting skeletal muscle, the heart, the eye, and the endocrine system. Two genetic loci have been associated with the DM phenotype: DM1, on chromosome 19, and DM2, on chromosome 3. In 1992, the mutation responsible for DM1 was identified as a CTG expansion located in the 3' untranslated region of the dystrophia myotonica-protein kinase gene (DMPK). How this untranslated CTG expansion causes myotonic dystrophy type 1(DM1) has been controversial. The recent discovery that myotonic dystrophy type 2 (DM2) is caused by an untranslated CCTG expansion, along with other discoveries on DM1 pathogenesis, indicate that the clinical features common to both diseases are caused by a gain-of-function RNA mechanism in which the CUG and CCUG repeats alter cellular function, including alternative splicing of various genes. We discuss the pathogenic mechanisms that have been proposed for the myotonic dystrophies, the clinical and molecular features of DM1 and DM2, and the characterization of murine and cell-culture models that have been generated to better understand these diseases.