It has become clear that the role of centrosomes extends well beyond that of important microtubule organizers. There is increasing evidence that they also function as coordination centres in eukaryotic cells, at which specific cytoplasmic proteins interact at high concentrations and important cell decisions are made. Accordingly, hundreds of proteins are concentrated at centrosomes, including cell cycle regulators, checkpoint proteins and signalling molecules. Nevertheless, several observations have raised the question of whether centrosomes are essential for many cell processes. Recent findings have shed light on the functions of centrosomes in animal cells and on the molecular mechanisms of centrosome assembly, in particular during mitosis. These advances should ultimately allow the in vitro reconstitution of functional centrosomes from their component proteins to unlock the secrets of these enigmatic organelles.