Paks (p21-activated kinases) are effectors for the small GTPases Cdc42 (cell division cycle 42) and Rac that play fundamental roles in a wide range of cellular processes, including cell morphology, motility, survival, gene transcription, apoptosis and hormone signalling. These enzymes are widely expressed in numerous tissues and are activated by extracellular signals through GTPase-dependent and -independent mechanisms. On the basis of structural and biochemical features, the Pak family members have been classified into two groups, comprising three members each. The two Pak groups have generally been considered as two halves of a single entity, but accumulating evidence indicates that this is not so. In this review, we discuss recent advances in our understanding of the structure, regulation and function of these kinases, emphasizing the many differences between these two groups of signalling proteins.