Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are widely expressed and rapidly induced at epithelial surfaces to repel assault from diverse infectious agents including bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. Much information suggests that AMPs act by mechanisms that extend beyond their capacity to serve as gene-encoded antibiotics. For example, some AMPs alter the properties of the mammalian membrane or interact with its receptors to influence diverse cellular processes including cytokine release, chemotaxis, antigen presentation, angiogenesis and wound healing. These functions complement their antimicrobial action and favor resolution of infection and repair of damaged epithelia. Opposing this, some microbes have evolved mechanisms to inactivate or avoid AMPs and subsequently become pathogens. Thus, AMPs are multifunctional molecules that have a central role in infection and inflammation.