Why do neurons sense extracellular acid? In large part, this question has driven increasing investigation on acid-sensing ion channels (ASICs) in the CNS and the peripheral nervous system for the past two decades. Significant progress has been made in understanding the structure and function of ASICs at the molecular level. Studies aimed at clarifying their physiological importance have suggested roles for ASICs in pain, neurological and psychiatric disease. This Review highlights recent findings linking these channels to physiology and disease. In addition, it discusses some of the implications for therapy and points out questions that remain unanswered.