Sepsis is defined as a life-threatening organ dysfunction that is caused by a dysregulated host response to infection. Sepsis can induce acute kidney injury and multiple organ failures and represents the most common cause of death in the intensive care unit. Sepsis initiates a complex immune response that varies over time, with the concomitant occurrence of both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory mechanisms. As a result, most patients with sepsis rapidly display signs of profound immunosuppression, which is associated with deleterious consequences. Scientific advances have highlighted the role of metabolic failure, epigenetic reprogramming, myeloid-derived suppressor cells, immature suppressive neutrophils and immune alterations in primary lymphoid organs (the thymus and bone marrow) in sepsis. An improved understanding of the mechanisms underlying this immunosuppression as well as of the similarities between sepsis-induced immunosuppression and immune defects in cancer or immunosenescence has led to novel therapeutic strategies aimed at stimulating immune function in patients with sepsis. Trials assessing the therapeutic benefit of IL-7, granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and antibodies against programmed cell death protein 1 (PD1) and programmed cell death 1 ligand 1 (PDL1) for the treatment of sepsis are in progress. The reappraisal of sepsis pathophysiology has also resulted in a novel approach to the design of clinical trials evaluating sepsis treatments, based on an evaluation of the immune status and biomarker-based stratification of patients.