Shigella flexneri is a gram-negative bacterium which causes the most communicable of bacterial dysenteries, shigellosis. Shigellosis causes 1.1 million deaths and over 164 million cases each year, with the majority of cases occurring in the children of developing nations. The pathogenesis of S. flexneri is based on the bacteria's ability to invade and replicate within the colonic epithelium, which results in severe inflammation and epithelial destruction. The molecular mechanisms used by S. flexneri to cross the epithelial barrier, evade the host's immune response and enter epithelial cells have been studied extensively in both in vitro and in vivo models. Consequently, numerous virulence factors essential to bacterial invasion, intercellular spread and the induction of inflammation have been identified in S. flexneri. The inflammation produced by the host has been implicated in both the destruction of the colonic epithelium and in controlling and containing the Shigella infection. The host's humoral response to S. flexneri also appears to be important in protecting the host, whilst the role of the cellular immune response remains unclear. The host's immune response to shigellosis is serotype-specific and protective against reinfection by the same serotype, making vaccination a possibility. Since the 1940s vaccines for S. flexneri have been developed with little success, however, the growing understanding of S. flexneri's pathogenesis and the host's immune response is assisting in the generation of more refined vaccine strategies. Current research encompasses a variety of vaccine types, which despite disparity in their efficacy and safety in humans represent promising progress in S. flexneri vaccine development.