Ion channels are crucial for the normal function of excitable tissues such as neurons and skeletal muscle. Since the discovery that the paroxysmal muscle disorder periodic paralysis is caused by mutations in genes that encode voltage-gated ion channels, many genetic neurological channelopathies have been defined. These channelopathies include epilepsy syndromes that show a mendelian pattern of inheritance, certain forms of migraine and disorders of cerebellar function, as well as periodic paralysis. The clinical diversity of these disorders relates in part to the tissue-specific expression of the dysfunctional channel, but is probably influenced by other, as yet unidentified, genetic and non-genetic factors. The complementary disciplines of molecular genetics and cellular and in vitro electrophysiology have resulted in significant advances in understanding of the basic molecular pathophysiology of some of these disorders. The single-gene neurological channelopathies are generally regarded as a paradigm for understanding common human paroxysmal disorders, such as epilepsy and migraine. This article reviews the clinical and molecular features of some of the single-gene channelopathies that affect muscle and brain. The possible role of ion-channel functional and genetic variation in predisposing individuals to common forms of human epilepsy and migraine are also considered. The implications for accurate genetic diagnosis and therapeutic intervention are highlighted.