Semaphorins were discovered 11 years ago as molecular cues for axon guidance that are conserved from invertebrates to humans. More than 20 semaphorin genes have been identified in mammals and their protein products are now known to be involved in a range of processes from the guidance of cell migration to the regulation of the immune response, angiogenesis and cancer. Plexins, either alone or in association with neuropilins, constitute high-affinity semaphorin receptors. However, other transmembrane molecules have been implicated in semaphorin receptor complexes, and interactions between plexins and a range of intracellular effectors have been reported. These data indicate that semaphorins might be able to elicit responses through more than one signalling pathway. Interestingly, according to recent findings, the semaphorin-dependent control of cell migration crucially involves integrin-based adhesive structures through which polarized cell-membrane protrusion is coupled to cytoskeletal dynamics. This review focuses on the mechanisms whereby semaphorins are thought to regulate cell migration.