Dynamic nuclear polarization (DNP) is a method that permits NMR signal intensities of solids and liquids to be enhanced significantly, and is therefore potentially an important tool in structural and mechanistic studies of biologically relevant molecules. During a DNP experiment, the large polarization of an exogeneous or endogeneous unpaired electron is transferred to the nuclei of interest (I) by microwave (microw) irradiation of the sample. The maximum theoretical enhancement achievable is given by the gyromagnetic ratios (gamma(e)gamma(l)), being approximately 660 for protons. In the early 1950s, the DNP phenomenon was demonstrated experimentally, and intensively investigated in the following four decades, primarily at low magnetic fields. This review focuses on recent developments in the field of DNP with a special emphasis on work done at high magnetic fields (> or =5 T), the regime where contemporary NMR experiments are performed. After a brief historical survey, we present a review of the classical continuous wave (cw) DNP mechanisms-the Overhauser effect, the solid effect, the cross effect, and thermal mixing. A special section is devoted to the theory of coherent polarization transfer mechanisms, since they are potentially more efficient at high fields than classical polarization schemes. The implementation of DNP at high magnetic fields has required the development and improvement of new and existing instrumentation. Therefore, we also review some recent developments in microw and probe technology, followed by an overview of DNP applications in biological solids and liquids. Finally, we outline some possible areas for future developments.