Integrins are essential receptors for the development and functioning of multicellular animals because they mediate cell migration and cell adhesion, and regulate cell proliferation and apoptosis. Cellular regulation of the affinity of integrins for ligands - so-called 'integrin activation' - is a central property of these receptors. Integrin activation controls cell adhesion, migration and extracellular matrix assembly, thereby contributing to processes such as angiogenesis, tumor cell metastasis, inflammation, the immune response and hemostasis. Recent studies indicate that a crucial, final step in integrin activation is the binding of talin, a cytoskeletal protein, to the cytoplasmic domain of the integrin beta subunit. These results provide a focus for unraveling the many biochemical pathways implicated in integrin activation and suggest a general structural model for the connections between integrins and diverse cellular signal transduction pathways.