The steroidogenic acute regulatory (StAR) protein regulates the rate limiting step in steroidogenesis, the transport of cholesterol from the outer to the inner mitochondrial membrane. Insight into the structure and function of StAR was attained through molecular genetic studies of congenital lipoid adrenal hyperplasia, a rare disease caused by mutations in the StAR gene. Subsequent functional analysis defined two major domains within the StAR protein, the N-terminal mitochondrial targeting sequence and the C-terminus, which promotes the translocation of cholesterol between the two mitochondrial membranes. Two models of StAR's mechanism of action, (1) stimulation of cholesterol desorption from the outer mitochondrial membrane and (2) an intermembrane shuttle hypothesis, are discussed with respect to the known biochemical and biophysical events associated with the process of steroidogenesis and the structure of StAR. StAR gene expression is regulated primarily at the transcriptional level, and the roles of transcription factors that govern basal and cAMP-dependent StAR expression including SF-1, C/EBP beta, Sp1 and GATA-4 are reviewed.