This paper reviews current knowledge on actinomycete integrative and conjugative elements (AICEs). The best characterised AICEs, pSAM2 of Streptomyces ambofaciens (10.9 kb), SLP1 (17.3 kb) of Streptomyces coelicolor and pMEA300 of Amycolatopsis methanolica (13.3 kb), are present as integrative elements in specific tRNA genes, and are capable of conjugative transfer. These AICEs have a highly conserved structural organisation, with functional modules for excision/integration, replication, conjugative transfer, and regulation. Recently, it has been shown that pMEA300 and the related elements pMEA100 of Amycolatopsis mediterranei and pSE211 of Saccharopolyspora erythraea form a novel group of AICEs, the pMEA-elements, based on the unique characteristics of their replication initiator protein RepAM. Evaluation of a large collection of Amycolatopsis isolates has allowed identification of multiple pMEA-like elements. Our data show that, as AICEs, they mainly coevolved with their natural host in an integrated form, rather than being dispersed via horizontal gene transfer. The pMEA-like elements could be separated into two distinct populations from different geographical origins. One group was most closely related to pMEA300 and was found in isolates from Australia and Asia and pMEA100-related sequences were present in European isolates. Genome sequence data have enormously contributed to the recent insight that AICEs are present in many actinomycete genera. The sequence data also provide more insight into their evolutionary relationships, revealing their modular composition and their likely combined descent from bacterial plasmids and bacteriophages. Evidence is accumulating that AICEs act as modulators of host genome diversity and are also involved in the acquisition of secondary metabolite clusters and foreign DNA via horizontal gene transfer. Although still speculative, these AICEs may play a role in the spread of antibiotic resistance factors into pathogenic bacteria. The novel insights on AICE characteristics presented in this review may be used for the effective construction of new vectors that allows us to engineer and optimise strains for the production of commercially and medically interesting secondary metabolites, and bioactive proteins.