Differentiated T cells produce a restricted set of lymphokines, allowing their subdivision into two major subsets: Th1 and Th2 cells. This has lead to a new paradigm for immunoregulation based on the Th1/Th2 dichotomy. A strict compartmentalization of T cells into Th1 and Th2 is clearly an oversimplification: regulatory and effector mechanisms in the immune system encompass much more than Th1 and Th2 cells. This oversimplification is nevertheless useful to carry out experiments designed to test the paradigm. Based on results obtained in different experimental models of autoimmune diseases, the subdivision of T cells into Th1 and Th2 subsets has been extended to suggest that Th1 cells contribute to the pathogenesis of several organ-specific autoimmune diseases, whereas Th2 cells may inhibit disease development. Although more slowly and maybe less clearly, a similar dichotomy is starting to emerge in human autoimmune diseases. It will soon be possible to formally test immunointervention based on Th1/Th2 cell manipulation in clinical situations: the tools and a conceptual frame are already available. In this review we will examine two key factors affecting the Th1/Th2 balance: antigen and the role of cytokines influencing the development of Th1 and Th2 cells. The rational manipulation of these two variables may ultimately lead to an effective control of Th1 and Th2 cells potentially able to alter the natural course of human autoimmune diseases.