Antimicrobial molecules are ancient and essential small cationic molecules of the host defence system which are found in a wide variety of species. They display antimicrobial activity against a wide range of bacteria, fungi and viruses, an activity that has been mostly attributed to the disruption of microbial membranes. In this article, we will review the “classical” functions of 3 classes of antimicrobial molecules, namely defensins, cathelicidins, and the four-disulfide core proteins secretory leukocyte proteinase inhibitor (SLPI) and elafin. In addition to the study of their expression in a variety of cell types and the regulation of their production, we will also describe novel properties of these molecules that have been highlighted by recent studies. These include their ability to chemoattract a variety of inflammatory, immune and other cell types (neutrophils, macrophages, monocytes, lymphocytes, mast cells, epithelial cells) in vitro and in vivo. In addition, we will discuss the potential use of these newly discovered properties for therapeutic or vaccination purposes, using protein- or gene-transfer based methodologies. Finally, we will examine in an extensive fashion the strategies used by microorganisms to circumvent and subvert host defence mechanisms, such as the modifications of cell membranes and walls, the secretion of inactivating proteins and proteases and the down-regulation of expression of antimicrobial molecules. Increased understanding of the mechanisms used by both the host and the microbes to ‘win the battle’ may ultimately lead to new therapeutic strategies aimed to treat infectious diseases.