For many years, dietary arginine supplementation, often combined with other substances, has been used as a mechanism to boost the immune system. Considerable controversy, however, exists as to the benefits and indications of dietary arginine due in part to a poor understanding of the role played by this amino acid in maintaining immune function. Emerging knowledge promises to clear this controversy and allow for arginine's safe use. In myeloid cells, arginine is mainly metabolized either by inducible nitric oxide (NO) synthases (iNOS) or by arginase 1, enzymes that are stimulated by T helper 1 or 2 cytokines, respectively. Thus, activation of iNOS or arginase (or both) reflects the type of inflammatory response in a specific disease process. Myeloid suppressor cells (MSC) expressing arginase have been described in trauma (in both mice and humans), intra-abdominal sepsis, certain infections, and prominently, cancer. Myeloid cells expressing arginase have been shown to accumulate in patients with cancer. Arginase 1 expression is also detected in mononuclear cells after trauma or surgery. MSC efficiently deplete arginine and generate ornithine. Through arginine depletion, MSC may control NO production and regulate other arginine-dependent biological processes. Low circulating arginine has been documented in trauma and cancer, suggesting that MSC may exert a systemic effect and cause a state of arginine deficiency. Simultaneously, T lymphocytes depend on arginine for proliferation, zeta-chain peptide and T-cell receptor complex expression, and the development of memory. T-cells cocultured with MSC exhibit the molecular and functional effects associated with arginine deficiency. Not surprisingly, T-cell abnormalities, including decreased proliferation and loss of the zeta-chain, are observed in cancer and after trauma.