T-type Ca2+ channels were originally called low-voltage-activated (LVA) channels because they can be activated by small depolarizations of the plasma membrane. In many neurons Ca2+ influx through LVA channels triggers low-threshold spikes, which in turn triggers a burst of action potentials mediated by Na+ channels. Burst firing is thought to play an important role in the synchronized activity of the thalamus observed in absence epilepsy, but may also underlie a wider range of thalamocortical dysrhythmias. In addition to a pacemaker role, Ca2+ entry via T-type channels can directly regulate intracellular Ca2+ concentrations, which is an important second messenger for a variety of cellular processes. Molecular cloning revealed the existence of three T-type channel genes. The deduced amino acid sequence shows a similar four-repeat structure to that found in high-voltage-activated (HVA) Ca2+ channels, and Na+ channels, indicating that they are evolutionarily related. Hence, the alpha1-subunits of T-type channels are now designated Cav3. Although mRNAs for all three Cav3 subtypes are expressed in brain, they vary in terms of their peripheral expression, with Cav3.2 showing the widest expression. The electrophysiological activities of recombinant Cav3 channels are very similar to native T-type currents and can be differentiated from HVA channels by their activation at lower voltages, faster inactivation, slower deactivation, and smaller conductance of Ba2+. The Cav3 subtypes can be differentiated by their kinetics and sensitivity to block by Ni2+. The goal of this review is to provide a comprehensive description of T-type currents, their distribution, regulation, pharmacology, and cloning.