The frequency of severe systemic fungal diseases has increased in the last few decades. The clinical use of antibacterial drugs, immunosuppressive agents after organ transplantation, cancer chemotherapy, and advances in surgery are associated with increasing risk of fungal infections. Opportunistic pathogens from the genera Candida and Aspergillus as well as pathogenic fungi from the genus Cryptococcus can invade human organism and may lead to mucosal and skin infections or to deep-seated mycoses of almost all inner organs, especially in immunocompromised patients. Nowadays, there are some effective antifungal agents, but, unfortunately, some of the pathogenic species show increasing resistance. The identification of fungal virulence factors and recognition of mechanisms of pathogenesis may lead to development of new efficient antifungal therapies. This review is focused on major virulence factors of the most common fungal pathogens of humans: Candida albicans, Aspergillus fumigatus and Cryptococcus neoformans. The adherence to host cells and tissues, secretion of hydrolytic enzymes, phenotypic switching and morphological dimorphism contribute to C. albicans virulence. The ability to grow at 37 degrees C, capsule synthesis and melanin formation are important virulence factors of C. neoformans. The putative virulence factors of A. fumigatus include production of pigments, adhesion molecules present on the cell surface and secretion of hydrolytic enzymes and toxins.