Technological developments and intense research over the last years have led to a better understanding of the 3D structure of the genome and its influence on genome function inside the cell nucleus. We will summarize topological studies performed on four model gene loci: the alpha- and beta-globin gene loci, the antigen receptor loci, the imprinted H19-Igf2 locus and the Hox gene clusters. Collectively, these studies show that regulatory DNA sequences physically contact genes to control their transcription. Proteins set up the 3D configuration of the genome and we will discuss the roles of the key structural organizers CTCF and cohesin, the nuclear lamina and the transcription machinery. Finally, genes adopt non-random positions in the nuclear interior. We will review studies on gene positioning and propose that cell-specific genome conformations can juxtapose a regulatory sequence on one chromosome to a responsive gene on another chromosome to cause altered gene expression in subpopulations of cells.