Mesothelial cells form a monolayer of specialised pavement-like cells that line the body's serous cavities and internal organs. The primary function of this layer, termed the mesothelium, is to provide a slippery, non-adhesive and protective surface. However, mesothelial cells play other pivotal roles involving transport of fluid and cells across the serosal cavities, antigen presentation, inflammation and tissue repair, coagulation and fibrinolysis and tumour cell adhesion. Injury to the mesothelium triggers events leading to the migration of mesothelial cells from the edge of the lesion towards the wound centre and desquamation of cells into the serosal fluid which attach and incorporate into the regenerating mesothelium. If healing is impaired, fibrous serosal adhesions form between organs and the body wall which impede vital intrathoracic and abdominal movement. Neoplastic transformation of mesothelial cells gives rise to malignant mesothelioma, an aggressive tumour predominantly of the pleura. Although closely associated with exposure to asbestos, recent studies have implicated other factors including simian virus 40 (SV40) in its pathogenesis.