Summary Antigen delivers both immunogenic and tolerogenic signals to lymphocytes. The outcome of antigen exposure represents a complex integration of the timing of antigen binding with signals from many other immunogenic and tolerogenic costimulatory pathways. A road map of these signalling pathways is only beginning to be charted, revealing the mechansim of action and limitations of current immunotherapeutic agents and the points of attack for new agents. Ciclosporin and tacrolimus interfere with tolerogenic signals from antigen in addition to blocking immunogenic signals, thus preventing active establishment of tolerance. Corticosteroids inhibit a key immunogenic pathway, NFκB, and more specific inhibitors of this pathway may allow tolerance to be actively established while immune responses are blocked. New experimental therapies aim to mimic tolerogenic antigen signals by chronically stimulating antigen receptors with antigen or antibodies to the receptor, or aim to block costimulatory pathways involving CD40 ligand, B7, or interleukin 2. Obtaining the desired response with these strategies is unpredictable because many of these signals have both tolerogenic and immunogenic roles. The cause of autoimune diseases has been determined for several rare monogenic disorders, revealing inherited deficiencies in tolerogenic costimulatory pathways such as FAS. Common autoimmune disorders may have a biochemically related pathogenesis.