The secondary lymphoid tissues are located at strategic sites where foreign antigens can be efficiently brought together with immune system regulatory and effector cells. The organized structure of the secondary lymphoid tissues is thought to enhance the sensitivity of antigen recognition and to support proper regulation of the activation and maturation of the antigen-responsive lymphoid cells. Although a substantial amount is known about the cellular elements that compose the lymphoid and nonlymphoid components of the secondary lymphoid tissues, information concerning the signals that control the development of the tissues and that maintain the organized tissue microenvironment remain undefined. Studies over the past few years have identified lymphotoxin as a critical signaling molecule not only for the organogenesis of secondary lymphoid tissues but for the maintenance of aspects of their microarchitecture as well. Additional signaling molecules that contribute to the formation of normal lymphoid tissue structure are being identified at an accelerating pace. Analyses of mouse strains with congenital defects in different aspects of secondary lymphoid tissue development are beginning to clarify the role of these tissues in immune responses and host defense. This review focuses on studies defining recently identified crucial signals for the biogenesis of secondary lymphoid organs and for the maintenance of their proper microarchitecture. It also discusses new insights into how the structure of these tissues supports effective immune responses.