LEA (late embryogenesis abundant) proteins were originally described almost 30 years ago as accumulating late in plant seed development. They were later found to be induced in vegetative plant tissues under environmental stress conditions and also in desiccation-tolerant micro-organisms and invertebrates. Although they are widely assumed to play crucial roles in cellular dehydration tolerance, their physiological and biochemical functions are largely unknown. Most LEA proteins are predicted to be intrinsically disordered and this has been experimentally verified in several cases. In addition, some LEA proteins partially fold, mainly into α-helices, during drying or in the presence of membranes. Recent studies have concentrated on the potential roles of LEA proteins in stabilizing membranes or sensitive enzymes during freezing or drying, and the present review concentrates on these two possible functions of LEA proteins in cellular dehydration tolerance.