As our primary interface with the environment, the skin is constantly subjected to injury and invasion by pathogens. The fundamental force driving the evolution of the immune system has been the need to protect the host against overwhelming infection. The ability of T and B cells to recombine antigen receptor genes during development provides an efficient, flexible, and powerful immune system with nearly unlimited specificity for antigen. The capacity to expand subsets of antigen-specific lymphocytes that become activated by environmental antigens (memory response) is termed "acquired" immunity. Immunologic memory, although a fundamental aspect of mammalian biology, is a relatively recent evolutionary event that permits organisms to live for years to decades. "Innate" immunity, mediated by genes that remain in germ line conformation and encode for proteins that recognize conserved structural patterns on microorganisms, is a much more ancient system of host defense. Defensins and other antimicrobial peptides, complement and opsonins, and endocytic receptors are all considered components of the innate immune system. None of these, however, are signal-transducing receptors. Most recently, a large family of cell surface receptors that mediate signaling through the NF-kappaB transcription factor has been identified. This family of proteins shares striking homology with plant and Drosophila genes that mediate innate immunity. In mammals, this family includes the type I interleukin-1 receptor, the interleukin-18 receptor, and a growing family of Toll-like receptors, two of which were recently identified as signal-transducing receptors for bacterial endotoxin. In this review, we discuss how interleukin-1 links the innate and acquired immune systems to provide synergistic host defense activities in skin.