Toll-like receptors (TLRs), which recognize pathogen-associated molecular patterns and members of the proinflammatory interleukin-1 receptor (IL-1R) family, share homologies in their cytoplasmic domains. Engagement of members of both of these families initiates a common intracellular signaling cascade, in which MyD88 and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) receptor-associated factor 6 (TRAF6) are key adaptor proteins. Signaling between MyD88 and TRAF6 is mediated by members of the IL-1R-associated kinase (IRAK) family; however, the exact function of each IRAK protein remains controversial. IRAK-1 is required for the optimal transduction of IL-1R- and TLR-mediated signals, but IRAK-1 can be replaced by other IRAKs. Surprisingly, gene targeting studies show that the newest IRAK protein, IRAK-4, has an essential role in mediating signals initiated by IL-1R and TLR engagement. The kinase activity of IRAK-4 might be necessary to functionally modify IRAK-1 and perhaps other signal transducing substrates. Understanding the role of IRAK-4 in innate immunity will enable us to design novel strategies for therapeutic intervention in human infectious disease.