Over the last years it has become evident that the nuclear envelope (NE) is more than a passive membrane barrier that separates the nucleus from the cytoplasm. The NE not only controls the trafficking of macromolecules between the nucleoplasm and the cytosol, but also provides anchoring sites for chromosomes and cytoskeleton to the nuclear periphery. Targeting of chromatin to the NE might actually be part of gene expression regulation in eukaryotes. Mutations in certain NE proteins are associated with a diversity of human diseases, including muscular dystrophy, neuropathy, lipodistrophy, torsion dystonia and the premature aging condition progeria. Despite the importance of the NE for cell division and differentiation, relatively little is known about its biogenesis and its role in human diseases. It is our goal to provide a comprehensive view of the NE and to discuss possible implications of NE-associated changes for gene expression, chromatin organization and signal transduction.