The Notch gene encodes a cell surface protein that regulates cell fate choices in vertebrates and invertebrates. Given the wide variety of cell types influenced by Notch, it would seem that the signal relayed through Notch activation is not an instructive one per se. Rather, Notch signaling is thought to influence the cell's ability to respond to instructive signals responsible for specific cell fates. Expression and functional studies of Notch support this idea; however, the possibility of additional functions for Notch cannot be excluded. Much of what we know about the Notch signaling pathway comes from studies with Drosophila Notch and the Caenorhabditis elegans Notch-related genes lin-12 and glp-1. With the isolation of multiple vertebrate Notch genes we are beginning to understand and define Notch signaling in vertebrates as well. A number of excellent reviews have been published summarizing the current status of Notch/LIN-12/GLP-1 signaling in Drosophila and C. elegans, as well as recent findings with the vertebrate counterparts. Here I review the structure of the various Notch proteins and their putative ligands, and discuss possible interactions between Notch, its ligands, and other cellular components that affect Notch signal transduction. A role for Notch signaling during normal development and in disease processes is discussed in an accompanying review by T. Gridley (1997, Mol. Cell. Neurosci. 9: 103-108).