Theories explaining the etiopathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) have been proposed ever since Crohn's disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC) were recognized as the two major forms of the disease. Although the exact cause(s) and mechanisms of tissue damage in CD and UC have yet to be completely understood, enough progress has occurred to accept the following hypothesis as valid: IBD is an inappropriate immune response that occurs in genetically susceptible individuals as the result of a complex interaction among environmental factors, microbial factors, and the intestinal immune system. Among an almost endless list of environmental factors, smoking has been identified as a risk factor for CD and a protective factor for UC. Among microbial factors, no convincing evidence indicates that classical infectious agents cause IBD, while mounting evidence points to an abnormal immune response against the normal enteric flora as being of central importance. Gut inflammation is mediated by cells of the innate as well as adaptive immune systems, with the additional contribution of non-immune cells, such as epithelial, mesenchymal and endothelial cells, and platelets.