The molecular chaperones are a diverse set of protein families required for the correct folding, transport and degradation of other proteins in vivo. There has been great progress in understanding the structure and mechanism of action of the chaperonin family, exemplified by Escherichia coli GroEL. The chaperonins are large, double-ring oligomeric proteins that act as containers for the folding of other protein subunits. Together with its co-protein GroES, GroEL binds non-native polypeptides and facilitates their refolding in an ATP-dependent manner. The action of the ATPase cycle causes the substrate-binding surface of GroEL to alternate in character between hydrophobic (binding/unfolding) and hydrophilic (release/folding). ATP binding initiates a series of dramatic conformational changes that bury the substrate-binding sites, lowering the affinity for non-native polypeptide. In the presence of ATP, GroES binds to GroEL, forming a large chamber that encapsulates substrate proteins for folding. For proteins whose folding is absolutely dependent on the full GroE system, ATP binding (but not hydrolysis) in the encapsulating ring is needed to initiate protein folding. Similarly, ATP binding, but not hydrolysis, in the opposite GroEL ring is needed to release GroES, thus opening the chamber. If the released substrate protein is still not correctly folded, it will go through another round of interaction with GroEL.