Glycogen phosphorylase plays a central role in the mobilization of carbohydrate reserves in a wide variety of organisms and tissues. While rabbit muscle phosphorylase remains the most studied and best characterized of phosphorylases, recombinant DNA techniques have led to the recent appearance of primary sequence data for a wide variety of phosphorylase enzymes. The functional properties of rabbit muscle phosphorylases are reviewed and then compared to properties of phosphorylases from other tissues and organisms. Tissue expression patterns and the chromosomal localization of mammalian phosphorylases are described. Differences in functional properties among phosphorylases are related to new structural information. Evolutionary relationships among phosphorylases as afforded by comparative analysis of proteins and gene sequences are discussed.