Mammalian ecto ADP-ribosyltransferases (ARTs) constitute a family of structurally related proteins expressed on the cell surface or secreted in the extracellular compartment. Using NAD+ as substrate, they transfer ADP-ribose groups onto target proteins. In contrast to intracellular poly(ADP-ribosyl)transferases (PARPs), these enzymes transfer a single ADPR and are thus mono-ARTs. Five paralogs (ART1-5) have been cloned but only four of them are expressed in human due to a defective ART2 gene, and six in the mouse as the result of ART2 gene duplication. The recent determination of the crystal structure of rat ART2 reveals homologies with bacterial ART toxins and provides a molecular basis for understanding the specificity of ARTs for their targets. A combination of different technological approaches reveals that ecto-ARTs are expressed in different tissues with privileged sites such as heart and skeletal muscles for ART1, T lymphocytes for ART2 or testis for ART5. It also indicates that ART expression is highly regulated. ADP-ribosylation of target proteins on cell surfaces or circulating in body fluids leads to reversible post-translational modifications which can inhibit the targets, as known for bacterial ARTs, or activate them, as in the crosstalk between mouse ART2 and the cytolytic P2X7 receptor on T lymphocytes. ART activity in the extracellular compartment provides sophisticated regulatory mechanisms for cell communication. This designates ecto- ARTs as new candidates for drug targeting.