The normal functions of full-length anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) remain to be completely elucidated. Although considered to be important in neural development, recent studies in Drosophila also highlight a role for ALK in gut muscle differentiation. Indeed, the Drosophila model offers a future arena for the study of ALK, its ligands and signalling cascades. The discovery of activated fusion forms of the ALK tyrosine kinase in anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) has dramatically improved our understanding of the pathogenesis of these lymphomas and enhanced the pathological diagnosis of this subtype of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). Likewise, the realisation that a high percentage of inflammatory myofibroblastic tumours express activated-ALK fusion proteins has clarified the causation of these mesenchymal neoplasms and provided for their easier discrimination from other mesenchymal-derived inflammatory myofibroblastic tumour (IMT) mimics. Recent reports of ALK expression in a range of carcinoma-derived cell lines together with its apparent role as a receptor for PTN and MK, both of which have been implicated in tumourigenesis, raise the possibility that ALK-mediated signalling could play a role in the development and/or progression of a number of common solid tumours. The therapeutic targeting of ALK may prove to have efficacy in the treatment of many of these neoplasms. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.