Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are the two major forms of chronic relapsing inflammatory disorders of the human intestines collectively referred to as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Though a complex set of autoinflammatory disorders that can be precipitated by diverse genetic and environmental factors, a feature that appears common to IBD pathogenesis is a dysregulated effector T cell response to the commensal microbiota. Due to the heightened effector T cell activity in IBD, developmental and functional pathways that give rise to these cells are potential targets for therapeutic intervention. In this review, we highlight recent advances in our understanding of effector T cell biology in the context of intestinal immune regulation and speculate on their potential clinical significance. © 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.