Cells can change their function by rapidly modulating the levels of certain proteins at the plasma membrane. This rapid modulation is achieved by using a specialised trafficking process called constitutive cycling. The constitutive cycling of a variety of transmembrane proteins such as receptors, channels and transporters has recently been directly demonstrated in a wide range of cell types. This regulation is thought to underlie important biological phenomena such as learning and memory, gastric acid secretion and water and blood glucose homeostasis. This review discusses the molecular mechanisms of constitutive cycling, its regulation by extracellular agents such as hormones and its misregulation in disease states. BioEssays 25:39–46, 2003. © 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.