Proteins with seven conserved "helicase domains" play essential roles in all aspects of nucleic acid metabolism. Deriving energy from ATP hydrolysis, helicases alter the structure of DNA, RNA, or DNA:RNA duplexes, remodeling chromatin and modulating access to the DNA template by the transcriptional machinery. This review focuses on the diverse functions of these proteins in the process of RNA polymerase II transcription in eukaryotes. Known or putative helicases are required for general transcription initiation and for transcription-coupled DNA repair, and may play important roles in elongation, termination, and transcript stability. Recent evidence suggests that helicase-domain-containing proteins are also involved in complexes that facilitate the activity of groups of seemingly unrelated genes.