Molecular data rapidly accumulating on the regulation of gene expression by amino acids in mammalian cells highlight the large variety of mechanisms that are involved. Transcription factors, such as the basic-leucine zipper factors, activating transcription factors and CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein, as well as specific regulatory sequences, such as amino acid response element and nutrient-sensing response element, have been shown to mediate the inhibitory effect of some amino acids. Moreover, amino acids exert a wide range of effects via the activation of different signalling pathways and various transcription factors, and a number of cis elements distinct from amino acid response element/nutrient-sensing response element sequences were shown to respond to changes in amino acid concentration. Particular attention has been paid to the effects of glutamine, the most abundant amino acid, which at appropriate concentrations enhances a great number of cell functions via the activation of various transcription factors. The glutamine-responsive genes and the transcription factors involved correspond tightly to the specific effects of the amino acid in the inflammatory response, cell proliferation, differentiation and survival, and metabolic functions. Indeed, in addition to the major role played by nuclear factor-kappaB in the anti-inflammatory action of glutamine, the stimulatory role of activating protein-1 and the inhibitory role of C/EBP homology binding protein in growth-promotion, and the role of c-myc in cell survival, many other transcription factors are also involved in the action of glutamine to regulate apoptosis and intermediary metabolism in different cell types and tissues. The signalling pathways leading to the activation of transcription factors suggest that several kinases are involved, particularly mitogen-activated protein kinases. In most cases, however, the precise pathways from the entrance of the amino acid into the cell to the activation of gene transcription remain elusive.