Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the fourth leading cause of death in the US and a major worldwide healthcare problem. The pathophysiologic mechanisms that drive development and progression of this disease are complex and only poorly understood. While tobacco smoking is the primary risk factor, other disease processes also appear to play a role. Components of the innate immune system (eg, macrophages and neutrophils) have long been believed to be important in the development of COPD. More recent evidence also suggests involvement of the adaptive immune system in pathogenesis of this disease. Here we will review the literature supporting the participation of T-cells in the development of COPD, and comment on the potential antigenic stimuli that may account for these responses. We will further explore the prospective contributions of T-cell derived mediators that could contribute to the inflammation, alveolar wall destruction, and small airway fibrosis of advanced COPD. A better understanding of these complex immune processes will lead to new insights that could result in improved preventative and/ or treatment strategies. © 2008 Dove Medical Press Limited. All rights reserved.