This paper reviews key insights the discipline of pathology has contributed to our understanding of bovine tuberculosis in the context of findings of studies of tuberculosis in humans and laboratory animal models. Analysis and extrapolation of data from other species have the potential to expand our understanding of the pathogenesis of the disease in cattle. The distribution of lesions in affected cattle, humans and laboratory animals illustrate the primacy of the respiratory tract as portal of infection and raise questions about the role of the upper respiratory tract surface, tonsil and dorsal lung regions in disease pathogenesis and transmission. The mechanisms behind significant pathological processes such as necrosis, apoptosis and liquefaction, occurring within lesions, are explored and their potential practical significance assessed in the context of herd disease dynamics and vaccine development. It is proposed that effective 'innate' host defences result in many animals and humans remaining disease-free and tuberculin test negative following exposure to infection. Furthermore, the concepts of latency and disease reactivation, considered significant factors in perpetuating tuberculosis in human populations, are explored in the context of the bovine disease.