This brief review provides a framework for discussing current approaches being used to determine the cellular localization and function of the high mobility group chromosomal (HMG) proteins. The four main constituents of this group (HMG 1, 2, 14, 17) are present in all four eukaryotic kingdoms, have a relatively well conserved primary sequence and contain several functional domains which enable them to interact with DNA, histones and other components of the genome. The evolutionary conservation in the primary and tertiary structure as well as the observed correlations between cell phenotype and quantitative changes in protein levels and in post-synthesis modifications suggests that these proteins are components obligatory for proper cellular function. Proteins HMG 1, 2 are DNA-binding proteins which can distinguish between various types of single-stranded regions of the genome. Proteins HMG 14, 17 may be involved in maintaining specific chromatin regions in particular conformations. The data available presently suggests that these proteins are important structural elements of chromatin and chromosomes.