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Cellular lipid metabolism and homeostasis are controlled by sterol regulatory-element binding proteins (SREBPs). In addition to performing canonical functions in the transcriptional regulation of genes involved in the biosynthesis and uptake of lipids, genome-wide system analyses have revealed that these versatile transcription factors act as important nodes of convergence and divergence within biological signalling networks. Thus, they are involved in myriad physiological and pathophysiological processes, highlighting the importance of lipid metabolism in biology. Changes in cell metabolism and growth are reciprocally linked through SREBPs. Anabolic and growth signalling pathways branch off and connect to multiple steps of SREBP activation and form complex regulatory networks. In addition, SREBPs are implicated in numerous pathogenic processes such as endoplasmic reticulum stress, inflammation, autophagy and apoptosis, and in this way, they contribute to obesity, dyslipidaemia, diabetes mellitus, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, chronic kidney disease, neurodegenerative diseases and cancers. This Review aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the role of SREBPs in physiology and pathophysiology at the cell, organ and organism levels.