Steroid hormones are involved in cell growth, development, and differentiation. The hormonal signal is mediated by nuclear receptors which represent a specific class of transcription factors. During the last few years, the cloning of all the major steroid hormone receptors increased our insight into how the hormonal signal converts the receptor into a transcriptional activator. Good progress has been made towards understanding the mechanism of steroid hormone action. In this review we will discuss the role of heat shock proteins in the process of transcriptional activation, the mechanistic differences between the hormone (agonist) and the antihormone (antagonist), the resulting functional consequences, and a possible mode by which transcriptional activation is mediated. © 1993 Wiley-Liss, Inc.