The mammalian immune system has innate and adaptive components, which cooperate to protect the host against microbial infections. The innate immune system consists of functionally distinct 'modules' that evolved to provide different forms of protection against pathogens. It senses pathogens through pattern-recognition receptors, which trigger the activation of antimicrobial defences and stimulate the adaptive immune response. The adaptive immune system, in turn, activates innate effector mechanisms in an antigen-specific manner. The connections between the various immune components are not fully understood, but recent progress brings us closer to an integrated view of the immune system and its function in host defence.