A new family of related ATPases has emerged, characterized by a highly conserved AAA motif. This motif forms a 230-amino-acid domain that contains Walker homology sequences and imparts ATPase activity. Homology between AAA-family members is confined mostly to the AAA domain, although additional homology outside the AAA motif is present among closely related proteins. AAA proteins act in a variety of cellular functions, including cell-cycle regulation, protein degradation, organelle biogenesis and vesicle-mediated protein transport. The AAA domain is required for protein function, but its exact role and the specific activity that it confers on AAA proteins is still unclear. This review describes current understanding of the AAA protein family.