The intracellular nuclear receptor farnesoid X receptor and the transmembrane G protein-coupled receptor TGR5 respond to bile acids by activating transcriptional networks and/or signalling cascades. These cascades affect the expression of a great number of target genes relevant for bile acid, cholesterol, lipid and carbohydrate metabolism, as well as genes involved in inflammation, fibrosis and carcinogenesis. Pregnane X receptor, vitamin D receptor and constitutive androstane receptor are additional nuclear receptors that respond to bile acids, albeit to a more restricted set of species of bile acids. Recognition of dedicated bile acid receptors prompted the development of semi-synthetic bile acid analogues and nonsteroidal compounds that target these receptors. These agents hold promise to become a new class of drugs for the treatment of chronic liver disease, hepatocellular cancer and extrahepatic inflammatory and metabolic diseases. This Review discusses the relevant bile acid receptors, the new drugs that target bile acid signalling and their possible applications.