Protein synthesis is often regulated at the level of initiation of translation, making it a critical step. This regulation occurs by both the cis-regulatory elements, which are located in the 5'- and 3'-UTRs (untranslated regions), and trans-acting factors. A breakdown in this regulation machinery can perturb cellular metabolism, leading to various physiological abnormalities. The highly structured UTRs, along with features such as GC-richness, upstream open reading frames and internal ribosome entry sites, significantly influence the rate of translation of mRNAs. In this review, we discuss how changes in the cis-regulatory sequences of the UTRs, for example, point mutations and truncations, influence expression of specific genes at the level of translation. Such modifications may tilt the physiological balance from healthy to diseased states, resulting in conditions such as hereditary thrombocythaemia, breast cancer, fragile X syndrome, bipolar affective disorder and Alzheimer's disease. This information tends to establish the crucial role of UTRs, perhaps as much as that of coding sequences, in health and disease.