The synthesis of fetal hemoglobin (HbF) is normally reduced to very low levels of less than 0.6% of the total hemoglobin in adults. The HbF is restricted to a sub-population of erythrocytes termed 'F-cells'; 85% of the normal adult population have 0.3% to 4.4% F-cells. The levels of HbF and F-cells vary by more than 10-fold in normal adults; family studies show that these levels are genetically controlled but the number and nature of these genetic factors are still poorly understood. HbF levels may be increased in adults in a number of inherited and acquired disorders, accompanied by an increase in both the number of F-cells and the amount of HbF per F-cell. The clinical significance of these conditions with raised HbF relates to their interaction in disorders such as sickle cell disease and β thalassaemia in which raised levels of HbF can lead to considerable amelioration of disease severity. Study of the 'natural' mutants primarily associated with increased HbF has provided considerable insight into the understanding of the control of globin gene regulation and hemoglobin switching. Currently considerable effort is being channelled into clinical trials and the search for the 'ideal' therapeutic agents which could increase HbF in adult life with minimal drug toxicity.