The ocular surface represents an immunologic microcosm in which certain local immunologic and paraimmunologic defense systems analogous or identical to those of other mucosal surfaces are operative. These defenses include a resident normal flora; intrinsic anatomic barriers; secretion of mucous and certain chemical bacteriostatics and bacteriolytics; local humoral (slgA) antibody secretion; and local T-lymphocyte cellular responses. A series of sophisticated mechanisms has evolved to defend the ocular surface against diverse environmental pathogens. Often, the activation of one system leads to the subsequent activation of another, providing a highly integrated, series of mechanisms for host defense. And, it is clear that close integration of these various mechanisms provides a highly efficient amplification system for host defense, so that when one mechanism fails to deal with the invading pathogen the next mechanism is then efficiently initiated. Only in those situations where the pathogen overwhelms these defense systems, or is of such a persistent nature that it becomes resistant to removal by these various mechanisms, or alternatively is able to subvert its identity and, therefore, evade these mechanisms do organisms infect and cause disease. It is undoubtedly the complex interaction of all of these defense systems, both paraimmunologic and immunologic, which finally determines the integrity of the ocular surface.