Anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) is a receptor tyrosine kinase, the normal role of which remains to be completely elucidated. Although work carried out in mammals suggests a function in neural development, results from studies in Drosophila indicate an additional role in visceral muscle differentiation. The aberrant expression of full-length ALK receptor proteins has been reported in neuroblastomas and glioblastomas, while the occurrence of ALK fusion proteins in anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) has resulted in the identification of the new tumor entity, ALK-positive ALCL. ALK represents one of few examples of a receptor tyrosine kinase implicated in oncogenesis in both haematopoietic and non-haematopoietic tumors, given that ALK fusions also occur in the mesenchymal tumor known as inflammatory myofibroblastic tumor (IMT). The study of ALK fusion proteins, besides demonstrating their importance in tumor development, has also raised the possibility of new therapeutic treatments for patients with ALK-positive malignancies.