The 5-HT3 receptor is a neurotransmitter-gated ion channel. It is a member of the Cys-loop family of receptors, which also includes nicotinic acetylcholine, glycine and GABAA receptors. Each member of the family consists of an arrangement of five subunits surrounding a central ion-conducting pore. The 5-HT3 receptor binding site is composed of six loops from two adjacent subunits, and the critical ligand binding residues within these loops are well documented. There are a range of 5-HT3 receptor agonists and competitive antagonists, but it is the antagonists that dominate their clinical use. Studies have proposed a range of disease symptoms that might be amenable to 5-HT3 receptor selective compounds; however, so far only the treatment of emesis and irritable bowel syndrome have been fully realised. In this review, the authors look at the structure, function and distribution of 5-HT3 receptors and how this may influence their role in disease. The authors also describe the existing clinical applications of 5-HT3 antagonists and the future potential of these drugs.