The carbapenems are beta-lactam antimicrobial agents with an exceptionally broad spectrum of activity. Older carbapenems, such as imipenem, were often susceptible to degradation by the enzyme dehydropeptidase-1 (DHP-1) located in renal tubules and required co-administration with a DHP-1 inhibitor such as cilastatin. Later additions to the class such as meropenem, ertapenem and doripenem demonstrated increased stability to DHP-1 and are administered without a DHP-1 inhibitor. Like all beta-lactam antimicrobial agents, carbapenems act by inhibiting bacterial cell wall synthesis by binding to and inactivating penicillin-binding proteins (PBPs). Carbapenems are stable to most beta-lactamases including AmpC beta-lactamases and extended-spectrum beta-lactamases. Resistance to carbapenems develops when bacteria acquire or develop structural changes within their PBPs, when they acquire metallo-beta-lactamases that are capable of rapidly degrading carbapenems, or when changes in membrane permeability arise as a result of loss of specific outer membrane porins. Carbapenems (imipenem, meropenem, doripenem) possess broad-spectrum in vitro activity, which includes activity against many Gram-positive, Gram-negative and anaerobic bacteria; carbapenems lack activity against Enterococcus faecium, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Stenotrophomonas maltophilia. Compared with imipenem, meropenem and doripenem, the spectrum of activity of ertapenem is more limited primarily because it lacks activity against Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Enterococcus spp. Imipenem, meropenem and doripenem have in vivo half lives of approximately 1 hour, while ertapenem has a half-life of approximately 4 hours making it suitable for once-daily administration. As with other beta-lactam antimicrobial agents, the most important pharmacodynamic parameter predicting in vivo efficacy is the time that the plasma drug concentration is maintained above the minimum inhibitory concentration (T>MIC). Imipenem/cilastatin and meropenem have been studied in comparative clinical trials establishing their efficacy in the treatment of a variety of infections including complicated intra-abdominal infections, skin and skin structure infections, community-acquired pneumonia, nosocomial pneumonia, complicated urinary tract infections, meningitis (meropenem only) and febrile neutropenia. The current role for imipenem/cilastatin and meropenem in therapy remains for use in moderate to severe nosocomial and polymicrobial infections. The unique antimicrobial spectrum and pharmacokinetic properties of ertapenem make it more suited to treatment of community-acquired infections and outpatient intravenous antimicrobial therapy than for the treatment of nosocomial infections. Doripenem is a promising new carbapenem with similar properties to those of meropenem, although it appears to have more potent in vitro activity against P. aeruginosa than meropenem. Clinical trials are required to establish the efficacy and safety of doripenem in moderate to severe infections, including nosocomial infections.