The folding of secretory and membrane proteins takes place in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). The quality of the proteins folded in the ER is carefully monitored by an ER quality control mechanism that allows only correctly folded proteins to be transported to their final destination, and misfolded or unassembled proteins to be retained in the ER and subsequently degraded in a process termed 'ER-associated degradation' (ERAD). The ERAD pathway is conserved from yeast to mammals, and plays an essential role in the maintenance of ER homeostasis, as well as in the prevention of various diseases that arise from the accumulation of aberrant proteins in the ER. In the ERAD pathway, molecular chaperones and lectin-like proteins are involved in the identification of misfolded proteins, ER-resident reductases cleave disulfide bonds in these proteins to facilitate retrograde transport to the cytosol and AAA(+) adenosine triphosphatase withdraws them from the retrotranslocation channel to the cytosol where they are degraded by the ubiquitin/proteasome system. The possible mechanisms that underlie ERAD and the various factors involved in this process are discussed in this article.