Due to their vast surface area, the mucosal surfaces of the body represent a major site of potential attack by invading pathogens. The secretions that bathe mucosal surfaces contain significant levels of immunoglobulins (Igs), which play key roles in immune defense of these surfaces. IgA is the predominant antibody class in many external secretions and has many functional attributes, both direct and indirect, that serve to prevent infective agents such as bacteria and viruses from breaching the mucosal barrier. This review details current understanding of the structural and functional characteristics of IgA, including interaction with specific receptors (such as FcαRI, Fcα/μR, and CD71) and presents examples of the means by which certain pathogens circumvent the protective properties of this important Ig. Copyright © Blackwell Munksgaard 2005.