Named after the polo gene of Drosophila, POLO-like kinases (PLKs) constitute a novel, evolutionarily conserved family of essential cell-cycle regulators. As emphasized in this review, recent studies identify important roles for vertebrate PLKs at the onset of mitosis: Plx1, a Xenopus PLK, has been implicated in the activation of Cdc25 phosphatase (and hence the activation of Cdc2), while human Plk1 is required for the proper maturation of the poles of mitotic spindles. These studies suggest a major role for Plk1/Plx1 in coordinating spindle assembly with the activation of Cdc2-cyclin complexes, and they establish a direct link between PLKs and the core cell-cycle-regulatory machinery. Genetic and biochemical studies in yeasts and Drosophila point to additional roles for PLKs at later stages of mitosis. Finally, mammals express multiple PLKs, suggesting that different family members might function at distinct cell-cycle transitions, reminiscent of cyclin-dependent kinases.