This article focuses on what is currently known about the regulation of transcription by RNA polymerase I (pol I) in eukaryotic organisms at opposite ends of the evolutionary spectrum--a yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and vertebrates, including mice, frogs, and man. Contemporary studies that have defined the DNA sequence elements are described, as well as the majority of the basal transcription factors essential for pol I transcription. Situations in which pol I transcription is known to be regulated are reviewed and possible regulatory mechanisms are critically discussed. Some aspects of basal pol I transcription machinery appear to have been conserved from fungi to vertebrates, but other aspects have evolved, perhaps to meet the needs of a metazoan organism. Different parts of the pol I transcription machinery are regulatory targets depending on different physiological stimuli. This suggests that multiple signaling pathways may also be involved. The involvement of ribosomal genes and their transcripts in events such as mitosis, cancer, and aging is discussed.