Recently, a paradigm shift has emerged in T-cell-mediated adaptive immunity. On the heels of the discovery of T cells with immunosuppressive function, so-called regulatory T cells (Tregs), the diversity of effector cells has expanded to include a third helper T cell, termed Th17. The appreciation that Th17 cells are products of a distinct effector pathway depended critically on observations made during investigations of mouse models of autoimmunity, advanced by discovery of the cytokines IL-17 and IL-23. These studies understandably led investigators to highlight the role played by Th17 cells in autoimmunity. Yet while the dysfunctional behavior of this phenotype as a contributor to inflammatory disease remains a central issue, this pathway evolved to meet a need for host protection against potential pathogens. It has become apparent that the Th17 pathway promotes host defense against certain extracellular bacteria and fungi, but more recent studies also implicate a role in protection against some protozoa and viruses. Here we review the experimental history that ultimately uncovered the existence and nature of Th17 cells, and then turn the reader's attention to what is currently known about Th17 cells as a bulwark against pathogens. © 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.