Type I interferons (IFNs) have diverse effects on innate and adaptive immune cells during infection with viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi, directly and/or indirectly through the induction of other mediators. Type I IFNs are important for host defence against viruses. However, recently, they have been shown to cause immunopathology in some acute viral infections, such as influenza virus infection. Conversely, they can lead to immunosuppression during chronic viral infections, such as lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus infection. During bacterial infections, low levels of type I IFNs may be required at an early stage, to initiate cell-mediated immune responses. High concentrations of type I IFNs may block B cell responses or lead to the production of immunosuppressive molecules, and such concentrations also reduce the responsiveness of macrophages to activation by IFNγ, as has been shown for infections with Listeria monocytogenes and Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Recent studies in experimental models of tuberculosis have demonstrated that prostaglandin E2 and interleukin-1 inhibit type I IFN expression and its downstream effects, demonstrating that a cross-regulatory network of cytokines operates during infectious diseases to provide protection with minimum damage to the host.