At birth the tissues of marsupial immune system are underdeveloped. The young animal is not immunocompetent. Histological and immunohistochemical studies of pouch young epithelial tissues provide a clear picture of tissue development but the timing of onset of immunocompetence awaits definition. The survival of the neonatal marsupial in a microbially rich environment is dependent on maternal strategies, including immunoglobulin transfer via milk and, in some species, prenatally via the yolk sac placenta. It is also likely that pouch secretions play a role. This review summarizes our current knowledge of the pathway of immunological development in marsupials and the protection and threats afforded by the pouch environment. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd.