Tuberculosis (TB) is the largest single infectious cause of human mortality. The incidence of TB has remained high in most of the developing world and the disease has recently re-emerged as a public health problem in industrialized countries. The development of a new improved TB vaccine is a highly prioritized international research area, which has been further stimulated by the appearance of multi-drug resistant strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The present status of the attempts to characterize the protective immune response to TB will be reviewed with special emphasis on recent progress in the identification and characterization of target molecules recognized by protective cells. This paper will focus on proteins released from live bacteria and discuss their role in the host-pathogen interaction and the ongoing attempts to use these molecules in TB subunit vaccines.