The alphaviruses are a genus of 26 enveloped viruses that cause disease in humans and domestic animals. Mosquitoes or other hematophagous arthropods serve as vectors for these viruses. The complete sequences of the +/- 11.7-kb plus-strand RNA genomes of eight alphaviruses have been determined, and partial sequences are known for several others; this has made possible evolutionary comparisons between different alphaviruses as well as comparisons of this group of viruses with other animal and plant viruses. Full-length cDNA clones from which infectious RNA can be recovered have been constructed for four alphaviruses; these clones have facilitated many molecular genetic studies as well as the development of these viruses as expression vectors. From these and studies involving biochemical approaches, many details of the replication cycle of the alphaviruses are known. The interactions of the viruses with host cells and host organisms have been exclusively studied, and the molecular basis of virulence and recovery from viral infection have been addressed in a large number of recent papers. The structure of the viruses has been determined to about 2.5 nm, making them the best-characterized enveloped virus to date. Because of the wealth of data that has appeared, these viruses represent a well-characterized system that tell us much about the evolution of RNA viruses, their replication, and their interactions with their hosts. This review summarizes our current knowledge of this group of viruses.