This review surveys what is known about the structure and function of the subnuclear domains called Cajal bodies (CBs). The major focus is on CBs in mammalian cells but we provide an overview of homologous CB structures in other organisms. We discuss the protein and RNA components of CBs, including factors recently found to associate in a cell cycle-dependent fashion or under specific metabolic or stress conditions. We also consider the dynamic properties of both CBs and their molecular components, based largely on recent data obtained thanks to the advent of improved in vivo detection and imaging methods. We discuss how these data contribute to an understanding of CB functions and highlight major questions that remain to be answered. Finally, we consider the interesting links that have emerged between CBs and alterations in nuclear structure apparent in a range of human pathologies, including cancer and inherited neurodegenerative diseases. We speculate on the relationship between CB function and molecular disease.