Interaction of ligands such as epidermal growth factor and interferon-γ with the extracellular domains of their plasma membrane receptors results in internalization followed by translocation into the nucleus of the ligand and/or receptor. There has been reluctance, however, to ascribe signaling importance to this, the focus instead being on second messenger pathways, including mobilization of kinases and inducible transcription factors (TFs). The latter, however, fails to explain the fact that so many ligands stimulate the same second messenger cascades/TFs, and yet show distinct gene activation profiles. This is particularly apt in the case of the seven STAT TFs that are held to be the mediators of the distinct cellular functions of over 60 ligands. The current review focuses on five representative nuclear localizing ligands for which there is documentation of translocation into the cytosol and nucleus through well-characterized pathways, in addition to a role in gene activation by ligand/receptor in the nucleus. BioEssays 26:993-1004, 2004. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.