Since its initial description in the 1940s and eventual elucidation as a highly evolved pathogenic bacterium, Mycoplasma pneumoniae has come to be recognized as a worldwide cause of primary atypical pneumonia. Beyond its ability to cause severe lower respiratory illness and milder upper respiratory symptoms it has become apparent that a wide array of extrapulmonary infectious and postinfectious events may accompany the infections in humans caused by this organism. Autoimmune disorders and chronic diseases such as asthma and arthritis are increasingly being associated with this mycoplasma, which frequently persists in individuals for prolonged periods. The reductive evolutionary process that has led to the minimal genome of M. pneumoniae suggests that it exists as a highly specialized parasitic bacterium capable of residing in an intracellular state within the respiratory tissues, occasionally emerging to produce symptoms. This review includes discussion of some of the newer aspects of our knowledge on this pathogen, characteristics of clinical infections, how it causes disease, the recent emergence of macrolide resistance, and the status of laboratory diagnostic methods. © 2008 Federation of European Microbiological Societies. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd. All rights reserved.