A fast growing family of ATPases has recently been highlighted. It was named the AAA family, for ATPases Associated to a variety of cellular Activities. The key feature of the family is a highly conserved module of 230 amino acids present in one or two copies in each protein. Despite extensive sequence conservation, the members of the family fulfil a large diversity of cellular functions: cell cycle regulation, gene expression in yeast and HIV, vesicle-mediated transport, peroxisome assembly, 26S protease function etc. In addition, several members of this family can be found in the same organism (up to 17 in S. cerevisiae). The contrast between functional diversity and structural conservation of the module, from archaebacteria to mammals, suggests that it plays an essential, but as yet unknown, role at key points of the cellular machinery. Two (non-exclusive) such possibilities are: (1) ATP-dependent proteasome function and (2) ATP-dependent anchorage of proteins. Finally, the basic biochemical activity of the AAA module is still a matter of speculation, and we propose that it acts as an ATP-dependent protein clamp.