T cells are generally thought to contribute to antimicrobial activity either by releasing lymphokines, which recruit and activate other cell types, or by major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-restricted lysis of infected host cells. Recently, it has become apparent that T cells can also mediate antimicrobial activity by direct interaction with microbial targets. Such interactions, which can be either antigen specific or nonspecific, occur in the apparent absence of MHC restriction and do not require the presence of other host cells. Microbial targets recognized by T cells include fungi, parasites and bacteria. Here, Stuart Levitz, Herbert Mathews and Juneann Murphy discuss the direct antimicrobial activity of T cells and speculate on its in vivo relevance.