Normal hearing depends on sound amplification within the mammalian cochlea. The amplification, without which the auditory system is effectively deaf, can be traced to the correct functioning of a group of motile sensory hair cells, the outer hair cells of the cochlea. Acting like motor cells, outer hair cells produce forces that are driven by graded changes in membrane potential. The forces depend on the presence of a motor protein in the lateral membrane of the cells. This protein, known as prestin, is a member of a transporter superfamily SLC26. The functional and structural properties of prestin are described in this review. Whether outer hair cell motility might account for sound amplification at all frequencies is also a critical question and is reviewed here.