This paper reviews the theories of the pathogenesis of atopic dermatitis (AD), with a particular emphasis on its immunopathogenesis. The contribution of predisposing factors, immunopathogenic factors and provoking factors in the pathogenesis of AD are considered. Predisposing factors explored in this article include genetics and the disturbance of skin function. Immunopathogenic factors reviewed include T cell dysfunction, biphasic cytokine expression and the role of immunoglobulin E. Provoking factors considered include microbial factors, psychosomatic interactions, contact allergens and irritants, inhalant allergens, food and climate. Immunosuppressive treatments reviewed include cyclosporin, azathioprine, methotrexate, tacrolimus, interferon-γ, phosphodiesterase inhibitors and pimecrolimus (SDZ ASM 981).