Voltage-gated ion channels are key molecules for the generation of electrical signals in cells. They are integral membrane proteins which are activated by a depolarized membrane potential resulting in a conformational change, allowing ions to permeate. Voltage-gated ion channels can either be inactivated from this open state by an additional conformational change which leads to a nonconducting state of the channel, or they may be deactivated by a repolarized membrane potential. Following the first successful cloning of voltage-gated ion channels in 1984 the combination of molecular biological and electrophysiological techniques has been very fruitful in the investigation of the structure and function of these membrane proteins. From these studies a molecular picture of the structural elements important for the activity of voltage-gated ion channels has been established. This has assisted in clarifying the molecular basis of the electrical excitability of cells.