Multiple organ failure (MOF) has reached epidemic proportions in most intensive care units and is fast becoming the most common cause of death in the surgical intensive care unit. Furthermore, in spite of the development of successive generations of new and more powerful antibiotics and increasing sophisticated techniques of organ support, our ability to salvage patients once MOF has become established has not appreciably improved over the last two decades. Clearly, new therapeutic strategies aimed at preventing or limiting the development of the physiologic abnormalities that induce organ failure are needed to improve survival in these critically ill patients. Based on our rapidly increasing knowledge of the mechanisms of MOF and the fruits of molecular biology, a number of new therapeutic approaches are in various stages of development. To effectively use these new therapeutic options as they become available, it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the pathophysiology of MOF. Thus, the goals of this review are to integrate the vast amount of new information on the basic biology of MOF and to focus special attention on the potential therapeutic consequences of these recent advances in our understanding of this complex and perplexing syndrome.