Newly synthesised proteins need to fold, often to intricate and close-packed structures, in order to function. The underlying mechanism by which this complex process takes place both in vitro and in vivo is now becoming understood, at least in general terms, as a result of the application of a wide range of biophysical and computational methods used in combination with the techniques of biochemistry and protein engineering. It is increasingly apparent, however, that folding is not only crucial for generating biological activity, but that it is also coupled to a wide range of processes within the cell, ranging from the trafficking of proteins to specific organelles to the regulation of cell growth and differentiation. Not surprisingly, therefore, the failure of proteins to fold appropriately, or to remain correctly folded, is associated with a large number of cellular malfunctions that give rise to disease. Misfolding, and its consequences such as aggregation, can be investigated by extending the types of techniques used to study the normal folding process. Application of these techniques is enabling the development of a unified description of the interconversion and regulation of the different conformational states available to proteins in living systems. Such a description proves a generic basis for understanding the fundamental links between protein misfolding and its associated clinical disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease and Type II diabetes, and for exploring novel therapeutic strategies directed at their prevention and treatment on a rational basis.