Understanding the complex histological, genetic and molecular changes that lead to malignant transformation of squamous epithelia of the head and neck will likely guide the development of methods for improved diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). The development and use of animal models that closely mimic the histopathology and molecular pathogenesis of HNSCC in humans would greatly expand the research possibilities and provide a means of testing potential therapeutic agents. However, many available animal models of HNSCC fall short of this objective. In order for investigators to select the appropriate model to answer scientific questions, it is important to understand the benefits and limitations of available animal models for the study of HNSCC. The purpose of this work is to give an overview of the most pertinent animal models of HNSCC, and to discuss future directions of research in this field. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.