During photosynthesis, CO2 moves from the atmosphere (Ca) surrounding the leaf to the sub-stomatal internal cavities (Ci) through stomata, and from there to the site of carboxylation inside the chloroplast stroma (Cc) through the leaf mesophyll. The latter CO2 diffusion component is called mesophyll conductance (gm), and can be divided in at least three components, that is, conductance through intercellular air spaces (gias), through cell wall (gw) and through the liquid phase inside cells (gliq). A large body of evidence has accumulated in the past two decades indicating that gm is sufficiently small as to significantly decrease Cc relative to Ci, therefore limiting photosynthesis. Moreover, gm is not constant, and it changes among species and in response to environmental factors. In addition, there is now evidence that gliq and, in some cases, gw, are the main determinants of gm. Mesophyll conductance is very dynamic, changing in response to environmental variables as rapid or even faster than stomatal conductance (i.e. within seconds to minutes). A revision of current knowledge on gm is presented. Firstly, a historical perspective is given, highlighting the founding works and methods, followed by a re-examination of the range of variation of gm among plant species and functional groups, and a revision of the responses of gm to different external (biotic and abiotic) and internal (developmental, structural and metabolic) factors. The possible physiological bases for gm, including aquaporins and carbonic anhydrases, are discussed. Possible ecological implications for variable gm are indicated, and the errors induced by neglecting gm when interpreting photosynthesis and carbon isotope discrimination models are highlighted. Finally, a series of research priorities for the near future are proposed.