Interleukin-12 (IL-12) is a heterodimeric cytokine that plays a central role in promoting type 1 T helper cell (Th1) responses and, hence, cell-mediated immunity. Its activities are mediated through a high-affinity receptor composed of two subunits, designated beta 1 and beta 2. Of these two subunits, beta 2 is more restricted in its distribution, and regulation of its expression is likely a central mechanism by which IL-12 responsiveness is controlled. Studies with neutralizing anti-IL-12 antibodies and IL-12-deficient mice have suggested that endogenous IL-12 plays an important role in the normal host defense against infection by a variety of intracellular pathogens. However, IL-12 appears also to play a central role in the genesis of some forms of immunopathology. Inhibition of IL-12 synthesis or activity may be beneficial in diseases associated with pathologic Th1 responses, such as multiple sclerosis or Crohn's disease. On the other hand, administration of recombinant IL-12 may have utility in the treatment of diseases associated with pathologic Th2 responses such as allergic disorders and asthma.