The NOD-like receptors have important roles in innate immunity as intracellular sensors of microbial components and cell injury. It has been proposed that these cytosolic proteins regulate the cysteine protease caspase-1 within a multiprotein complex known as the 'inflammasome'. Activation of caspase-1 leads to the cleavage and activation of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-1beta (IL-1beta) and IL-18, as well as host-cell death. The analysis of mice that are deficient in various inflammasome components has revealed that the inflammasome is a dynamic entity that is assembled from different adaptors in a stimulus-dependent manner. Here we review recent work on the activation of the inflammasome in response to various bacterial pathogens and tissue damage.