Odorant-binding proteins (OBPs) are low-molecular-weight soluble proteins highly concentrated in the nasal mucus of vertebrates and in the sensillar lymph of insects. Their affinity toward odors and pheromones suggests a role in olfactory perception, but their physiological function has not been clearly defined. Several members of this class of proteins have been isolated and characterized both in insects and vertebrates; in most species two or three types of OBPs are expressed in the nasal area. Vertebrates OBPs show significant sequence similarity with a superfamily of soluble carrier proteins called lipocalins. They include some proteins of particular interest that are thought to be involved in the mechanism of releasing and modulating chemical messages with pheromonal activity. The data on vertebrate OBPs are here reviewed together with the most relevant information on related proteins. Theories and models of the physiological functions of odorant-binding proteins are presented and discussed.