This article reviews the main lines of thinking and exploration that have led to our current conception of the role of IFN-gamma in immune defense and autoimmunity. In 1965 the first report appeared describing production of an interferon-like virus inhibitor in cultured human leukocytes following exposure to the mitogen phytohemagglutinin. In the early 1970s the active principle became recognized as being distinct from classical virus-induced interferons, leading to its designation as immune interferon or Type II interferon, and eventually IFN-gamma. Up to that point interest in the factor had come almost exclusively from virologists, in particular those among them who were believers in interferon. Evidence first coming forward in the 1980s that IFN-gamma is indistinguishable from macrophage-activating factor (MAF), then a prototype lymphokine, was the signal for immunologists at large to become interested. Today IFN-gamma ranks among the most important endogenous regulators of immune responses.