Clinical and epidemiologic studies have suggested an association between infectious agents and chronic inflammatory disorders and cancer. Better understanding of microbial pattern-recognition receptors and innate immune signaling pathways of the host is helping to elucidate the connection between microbial infection and chronic disease. We propose that a key aspect of pathogenesis is an aberrant epithelial barrier that can be instigated by microbial toxins, environmental insults, or the genetic predisposition of the host. Loss of epithelial integrity results in activation of resident inflammatory cells by microbial invaders or endogenous ligands. When coupled with a failure of normal control mechanisms that limit leukocyte activation, a cascade is established that induces chronic inflammation and its consequences. Here, we outline this mechanistic framework and briefly review how alteration of innate immune response genes in murine models can provide insights into the potential microbial origins of diverse conditions including Crohn's disease, psoriasis, atherosclerosis, diabetes, and liver cancer.