The cathelicidin peptides comprise one of several families of antimicrobial peptides that are found in neutrophils and epithelia as components of the early host defenses of mammals against infection. All cathelicidin family members are synthesized and stored in cells as two-domain proteins. These are split on demand to produce a cathelin protein and an antimicrobial peptide. Accumulating evidence indicates that both the cathelin portion and the C-terminal peptide exert biological activities connected with host protection. This review presents an overview of the structure and biology of cathelicidins and discusses recent progress in cathelicidin research with emphasis on the functional properties and role in host defense of the human cathelicidin hCAP18/LL-37. Although investigators initially concentrated their attention on antibiotic activity, it is becoming clear now that LL-37 is a multifunctional molecule that may mediate various host responses, and thus represents an essential component of the innate immune system in humans.