In recent years, a tremendous effort has been devoted to the detailed characterization of the phenotype and function of distinct T cell subpopulations in humans, as well as to their pathway(s) of differentiation and role in immune responses. But these studies seem to have generated more questions than definitive answers. To clarify issues related to the function and differentiation of T cell subsets, one session of the MASIR 2008 conference was dedicated to this topic. Several points of consensus and discord were highlighted in the work presented during this session. We provide here an account of these points, including the relative heterogeneity of T cell subpopulations during infections with distinct pathogens, the relationship between phenotypic and functional T cell attributes, and the pathway(s) of T cell differentiation. Finally, we discuss the problems which still limit general agreement.