There is an unsettled debate about the role of magnesium as a 'chronic regulator' of biological functions, as opposed to the well-known role for calcium as an 'acute regulator'. New and old findings appear to delineate an increasingly complex and important role for magnesium in many cellular functions. This review summarizes the available evidence for a link between the regulation of intracellular magnesium availability and the control of cell growth, energy metabolism and death, both in healthy and diseased conditions. A comprehensive view is precluded by technical difficulties in tracing magnesium within a multicompartment and dynamic environment like the cell; nevertheless, the last few years has witnessed encouraging progress towards a better characterization of magnesium transport and its storage or mobilization inside the cell. The latest findings pave the road towards a new and deeper appreciation of magnesium homoeostasis and its role in the regulation of essential cell functions.