Regularly performed exercise in the form of endurance training produces a well-established adaptation in skeletal muscle termed mitochondrial biogenesis. The physiological benefit of this is an enhanced performance of muscle when subject to endurance exercise. This is not only of great advantage for athletic endeavours, but it also clearly improves the quality of life of previously sedentary individuals and those involved in injury rehabilitation. Here we review the molecular basis for mitochondrial biogenesis in muscle, from the initial signals arising in contracting muscle, to the transcription factors involved in mitochondrial and nuclear DNA transcription, as well as the post-translational import mechanisms required for the synthesis of the organelle. We discuss specific protein components associated with reactive oxygen species production, and suggest some questions which remain unanswered with respect to the role of exercise-induced mitochondrial biogenesis in ageing, apoptosis and disease. Experimental Physiology (2003) 88.1, 99-107.