The success of vaccination against measles in developed countries has significantly reduced the incidence of measles-related morbidity and mortality. However, measles is still the leading cause of mortality in children from underdeveloped countries due to low vaccination coverage, high transmissibility of the measles virus as well as primary and secondary vaccine failure. As with any viral disease, the identification of the host molecule to which the measles virus binds and gains entry into the host cell is a major step in understanding the molecular pathology of the disease. Two cell surface receptors, CD46 and signaling lymphocyte-activation molecule (SLAM), have been identified as measles virus receptors. CD46 is ubiquitously expressed on all nucleated cells and acts as a receptor for the Edmonston strain and all vaccine strains derived from it. SLAM is selectively expressed on some T and B cells and is utilised by the Edmonston strain and wild-type strains that cannot use CD46 for cell entry. Understanding the structural and functional variations in measles virus receptors with regard to host response can facilitate the development of new vaccines as well as provide new insights into measles virus tropism and pathogenesis and, importantly, into possible mechanisms for vaccine non-response. Our review focuses on the structure of measles virus receptors, measles virus receptor function, isoforms and polymorphic forms. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.