The advent of microRNA has potentially uncovered a new level of complexity to be considered for every biological process. Through the modulation of transcription and translation, microRNA alter the basal state of cells and the outcome of stimulatory events. The exact effect of the microRNA network and individual microRNA on cellular processes is only just starting to be dissected. In the immune system, microRNA appear to have a key role in the early differentiation and effector differentiation of B cells. In T cells, microRNA have been shown to be key regulators of the lineage induction pathways, and to have a strong role in the induction, function and maintenance of the regulatory T-cell lineage. MicroRNA are also important for regulating the differentiation of dendritic cells and macrophages via toll-like receptors, with responsibilities in suppressing effector function before activation and enhancing function after stimulation. In addition to regulating key processes in the immune system, microRNA may also represent an archaic immune system themselves. Small interfering RNA of viral origin has been shown to function as an intracellular mediator in the suppression of viral infection in eukaryotes as diverse as plants, insects, nematodes and fungi, and there is growing evidence that endogenous mammalian microRNA can have similar impacts. In this article we speculate that the anti-viral function of microRNA drove the expression of different subsets of microRNA in different cellular lineages, which may have, in turn, led to the myriad of roles microRNA play in lineage differentiation and stability.