Scientific knowledge of meningococcal infection has increased greatly since the epidemic nature of the illness was first described by Vieusseux at the dawn of the nineteenth century. In fact, revolutionary advances have been made in public-health measures, antimicrobial therapy, diagnostic procedures, anti-inflammatory drugs and supportive care facilities. Based on the knowledge accumulated to date, it is generally accepted that the pathogenesis of meningococcal infection involves multiple links that interconnect in a complex web of phenomena from Neisseria meningitidis attachment to meningococcal sepsis or meningitis. In fact, a myriad of strongly interacting inflammatory molecules and cells have been implicated in neisserial infection, illustrating the complexity of meningococcal pathogenesis. In addition, many of these signallers are critically involved in outcomes in the human host. Deciphering the pathogenesis of meningococcal infection could expand our knowledge and provide important clues to the host-pathogen interaction, as well as leading to the development of new therapeutic tools. Herein, we review the history of the discovery and characterization of meningococcal disease, epidemiological features of the disease with an emphasis on recent developments in Brazil, the cellular and molecular basis of disease, and discuss diagnosis and therapy.