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BRAF somatic mutations are frequently found in primary and metastatic melanomas and melanocytic naevi. Commonly found BRAF mutants stimulate constitutive RAF/MEK (mitogen-activated ERK-activating kinase)/ERK (extracellular signal-regulated kinase) pathway activation and act as transforming oncogenes in NIH-3T3 cells and immortalized murine melanocytes. The most common BRAF mutation is the V600E alteration, but over 30 distinct BRAF mutations, varying in biological activity, have been found and may be predictive of clinically relevant tumour differences. The origin of these acquired mutations remains unknown, but melanomas have a different BRAF mutational spectrum from other tumours, possibly resulting from unique environmental exposures. In melanoma cases, BRAF mutations are frequently found in superficial spreading or nodular histological subtypes, in tumours on intermittently sun-exposed sites and in younger patients. Although evidence indicates that the activation of the RAF/MEK/ERK pathway influences the proliferation, invasion and survival of melanoma cells in vitro, the exact role of BRAF mutation in melanoma tumour progression, maintenance and outcome remains controversial. In addition, although BRAF and NRAS mutations are mutually exclusive in melanomas, other genetic events may complement BRAF mutation to produce biological activity similar to NRAS mutation. Nonetheless, preclinical and early clinical studies predict that RAF/MEK/ERK pathway inhibitors will have therapeutic activity towards melanoma, but that tumour subclassification by BRAF/NRAS mutational status may be necessary to evaluate their efficacy.