TLRs (Toll-like receptors) comprise a family of proteins whose function is principally to facilitate the detection of, and response to, pathogens. Protozoa, helminths, viruses, bacteria and fungi can all activate TLR signalling, and these signals have important roles in the activation of host defence. TLRs may also respond to products of tissue damage, providing them with roles in infective and sterile inflammation. Their role as detectors of pathogens and pathogen-associated molecules provides molecular mechanisms to underpin the observations leading to the hygiene hypothesis. Targeting of TLR signalling has implications in the control of infection, vaccine design, desensitization to allergens and down-regulation of inflammation. This review will explore TLR history, molecular signalling and the potential roles of TLRs in chronic lung disease.