The nuclear envelope has long been a focus of basic research for a highly specialized group of cell biologists. More recently, an expanding group of scientists and physicians have developed a keen interest in the nuclear envelope since mutations in the genes encoding lamins and associated proteins have been shown to cause a diverse range of human diseases often called laminopathies or nuclear envelopathies. Most of these diseases have tissue-selective phenotypes, suggesting that the nuclear envelope must function in cell-type- and developmental-stage-specific processes such as chromatin organization, regulation of gene expression, controlled nucleocytoplasmic transport and response to stress in metazoans. On 22-23 April 2009, Professor Christopher Hutchison organized the 4th British Nuclear Envelope Disease and Chromatin Organization meeting at the College of St Hild and St Bede at Durham University, sponsored by the Biochemical Society. In attendance were investigators with one common interest, the nuclear envelope, but with diverse expertise and training in animal and plant cell biology, genetics, developmental biology and medicine. We were each honoured to be keynote speakers. This issue of Biochemical Society Transactions contains papers written by some of the presenters at this scientifically exciting meeting, held in a bucolic setting where the food was tasty and the wine flowed freely. Perhaps at the end of this excellent meeting more questions were raised than answered, which will stimulate future research. However, what became clear is that the nuclear envelope is a cellular structure with critical functions in addition to its traditional role as a barrier separating the nuclear and cytoplasmic compartments in interphase eukaryotic cells.