About 50 human chemokines and nearly 20 receptors have been identified and characterized in little more than a decade since the discovery of interleukin 8 (IL-8), the first chemotactic cytokine. Research in this field has dramatically changed our understanding of leucocyte traffic in inflammation and immunity. This paper has been written for scientists and practitioners in the field of medicine. It reviews in concise and intelligible form information that I consider useful for understanding the role of chemokines in human pathophysiology. The main areas covered are: (i) the basics of chemokine structures, mode of action, activities and selectivity; (ii) newer aspects of the broad involvement of chemokines in the regulation of immune defence and the housekeeping of the immune system; (iii) the role of chemokines in pathology as illustrated by animal models and studies of human diseases; and (iv) novel therapeutic approaches for a variety of inflammatory conditions, which are based on modulation of chemokine activity.