Carbapenems are beta-lactam antibiotics characterised by the presence of a beta-lactam ring with a carbon instead of sulfone in the 4-position of the thyazolidinic moiety. The first carbapenem to be utilised in therapy was imipenem, the N-formimidoyl derivative of thienamycin. Imipenem is coadministered with cilastatin, an inhibitor of human renal dehydropeptidase I, as imipenem is hydrolysed by this enzyme. Meropenem was the first carbapenem with a 1-beta-methyl group and 2-thio pyrrolidinyl moiety, which renders this antibiotic stable to renal dehydropeptidase I. Other carbapenems for parenteral administration later discovered include biapenem, panipenem, ertapenem, lenapenem, E-1010, S-4661 and BMS-181139. Carbapenems which are orally administered include sanfetrinem, DZ-2640, CS-834 and GV-129606. Carbapenems have an ultra-broad spectrum of antibacterial activity and stability to almost all clinically relevant beta-lactamases. This differentiates them from all other currently available classes of beta-lactam antibiotics. However, Class B beta-lactamases, along with some rare Class A and D enzymes, are able to hydrolyse these antibiotics. Although Class B enzymes are generally chromosomally-encoded (isolated from Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, Aeromonas spp., Bacillus cereus, Bacteroides fragilis, Flavobacterium spp. and Legionella gormanii), plasmid-metallo-beta-lactamases now are appearing in B. fragilis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Acinetobacter baumannii and members of Enterobacteriaceae such as Serratia marcescens and Klebsiella pneumoniae. The number of these enzymes compared to the number of other beta-lactamase types is still low, however, it is likely that they will spread due to the increased selective pressure of carbapenem use. The very broad spectrum of antimicrobial activity associated with a good clinical efficacy and a favourable safety profile makes the carbapenems valuable as 'first-line' antibiotics in initial empirical therapy for the treatment of severe infections.