Androgens control male sexual development and maintenance of the adult male phenotype. They have very divergent effects on their target organs like the reproductive organs, muscle, bone, brain and skin. This is explained in part by the fact that different cell types respond differently to androgen stimulus, even when all these responses are mediated by the same intracellular androgen receptor. To understand these tissue- and cell-specific readouts of androgens, we have to learn the many different steps in the transcription activation mechanisms of the androgen receptor (NR3C4). Like all nuclear receptors, the steroid receptors have a central DNA-binding domain connected to a ligand-binding domain by a hinge region. In addition, all steroid receptors have a relatively large amino-terminal domain. Despite the overall structural homology with other nuclear receptors, the androgen receptor has several specific characteristics which will be discussed here. This receptor can bind two types of androgen response elements (AREs): one type being similar to the classical GRE/PRE-type elements, the other type being the more divergent and more selective AREs. The hormone-binding domain has low intrinsic transactivation properties, a feature that correlates with the low affinity of this domain for the canonical LxxLL-bearing coactivators. For the androgen receptor, transcriptional activation involves the alternative recruitment of coactivators to different regions in the amino-terminal domain, as well as the hinge region. Finally, a very strong ligand-induced interaction between the amino-terminal domain and the ligand-binding domain of the androgen receptor seems to be involved in many aspects of its function as a transcription factor. This review describes the current knowledge on the structure-function relationships within the domains of the androgen receptor and tries to integrate the involvement of different domains, subdomains and motifs in the functioning of this receptor as a transcription factor with tissue- and cell-specific readouts.