The RNA-regulated protein kinase, (PKR) is an interferon-inducible enzyme of widespread occurrence in eukaryotic organisms. This serine/threonine-specific protein kinase is activated by double-stranded RNA by a mechanism involving autophosphorylation. Once activated, the enzyme phosphorylates the alpha subunit of protein synthesis initiation factor eIF2, thereby inhibiting translation. Recent evidence suggests that there may be additional substrates, and that signal transduction and gene transcription pathways also may be regulated by the protein kinase. As well as being important in mediating the antiviral effects of interferons, PKR is implicated in regulating cell proliferation in uninfected cells and may have a tumour suppressor function under normal conditions. Studies using cell lines expressing inactive mutants of PKR and mice with homozygous disruptions of the PKR gene are leading to greater insights into the biological significance of this enzyme.