TRPC (canonical transient receptor potential) channels are vertebrate homologs of the Drosophila photoreceptor channel, TRP. Considerable research has been brought to bear on the seven members of this family, especially with regard to their possible role in calcium entry. Unfortunately, the current literature presents a confusing picture, with different laboratories producing widely differing results and interpretations. It appears that ectopically expressed TRPC channels can be activated by phospholipase C products (generally, diacylglycerols), by stimulation of trafficking to the plasma membrane, or by depletion of intracellular Ca(2+) stores. Here, I discuss the possibility that these diverse experimental findings arise because TRPC channels can, under both experimental as well as physiological conditions, be activated in three distinct ways, possibly depending on their subunit composition and/or signaling complex environment. The TRPCs may be unique among ion-channel subunit families in being able to participate in the assembly and function of multiple types of physiologically important ion channels.