Proteins of the small ubiquitin-related modifier (SUMO) family are conjugated to proteins to regulate such cellular processes as nuclear transport, transcription, chromosome segregation and DNA repair. Recently, numerous insights into regulatory mechanisms of the SUMO modification pathway have emerged. Although SUMO-conjugating enzymes can discriminate between SUMO targets, many substrates possess characteristics that facilitate their modification. Other post-translational modifications also regulate SUMO conjugation, suggesting that SUMO signalling is integrated with other signal transduction pathways. A better understanding of SUMO regulatory mechanisms will lead to improved approaches for analysing the function of SUMO and substrate conjugation in distinct cellular pathways.