The respiratory epithelium maintains an effective antimicrobial environment to prevent colonization by microorganisms in inspired air. In addition to constitutively present host defenses which include antimicrobial peptides and proteins, the epithelial cells respond to the presence of microbes by the induction two complementary parts of an innate immune response. The first response is the increased production of antimicrobial agents, and the second is the induction of a signal network to recruit phagocytic cells to contain the infection. Inflammatory mediators released by the recruited cells as well as from the epithelium itself further induce the expression of the antimicrobial agents. The result is an effective prevention of microbial colonization. The epithelial cells recognize the pathogen-associated patterns on microbes by surface receptors such as CD14 and Toll-like receptors. Subsequent signal transduction pathways have been identified which result in the increased transcription of host defense response genes. Diseases such as cystic fibrosis, or environmental exposures such as the inhalation of air pollution particles, may create an environment that impairs the expression or activity of the host defenses in the airway. This can lead to increased susceptibility to airway infections.