Studies with rodents infected with Trichinella spiralis, Heligmosomoides polygyrus, Nippostronglyus brasiliensis, and Trichuris muris have provided considerable information about immune mechanisms that protect against parasitic gastrointestinal nematodes. Four generalizations can be made: 1. CD4+ T cells are critical for host protection; 2. IL-12 and IFN-gamma inhibit protective immunity; 3. IL-4 can: (a) be required for host protection, (b) limit severity of infection, or (c) induce redundant protective mechanisms; and 4. Some cytokines that are stereotypically produced in response to gastrointestinal nematode infections fail to enhance host protection against some of the parasites that elicit their production. Host protection is redundant at two levels: 1. IL-4 has multiple effects on the immune system and on gut physiology (discussed in this review), more than one of which may protect against a particular parasite; and 2. IL-4 is often only one of multiple stimuli that can induce protection. Hosts may have evolved the ability to recognize features that characterize parasitic gastrointestinal nematodes as a class as triggers for a stereotypic cytokine response, but not the ability to distinguish features of individual parasites as stimuli for more specific protective cytokine responses. As a result, hosts deploy a set of defense mechanisms against these parasites that together control infection by most members of that class, even though a specific defense mechanism may not be required to defend against a particular parasite and may even damage a host infected with that parasite.