The nuclear hormone receptor gene superfamily encodes structurally related proteins that regulate transcription of target genes. These macromolecules include receptors for steroid and thyroid hormones, vitamins, and other proteins for which no ligands have been found. These receptors have modular domains. The DNA-binding domain directs the receptors to bind specific DNA sequences as monomers, homodimers, or heterodimers. The ligand-binding domain responds to binding of the cognate hormone; this domain and the amino terminal domain interact with other transcription factors. Nuclear receptor-specific actions are derived from a combination of diverse elements, including availability of ligand, receptors, and nonreceptor factors; target-site structure; interactions with other proteins, such as the general transcription factors; and influences of other signaling pathways. These interactions result in ligand-regulated and ligand-independent effects on initiation of transcription of the target genes. Understanding the mechanisms of nuclear receptor action will enhance our knowledge of transcription and hormone influences on disease and facilitate the design of drugs with greater therapeutic value.