Collectins, present in plasma and on mucosal surfaces, are humoral molecules of the innate immune system. They were discovered a hundred years ago in 1906 as the first association of an animal lectin with the immune system. They are a family of calcium-dependent lectins that recognize pathogen-associated molecular patterns. They share a similar modular domain architecture consisting of four regions; a cysteine-rich N-terminal domain, a collagen-like region, an α-helical neck domain and a C-terminal carbohydrate recognition domain. There have been eight collectins members defined so far, of which, MBL, SP-A and SP-D are the most characterized. Collectins represent the first line of host defense. Upon recognition of the infectious agents, collectins put into action effector mechanisms like direct opsonization, neutralization, agglutination, complement activation and phagocytosis to curb the microbial growth. In addition, they also modulate inflammatory and allergic responses and apoptotic cell clearance. These functions limit infection and subsequently modulate the adaptive immune responses. The role of collectins, their structure, function, characteristics and clinical significance are reviewed in this article. BioEssays 29:452–464, 2007. © 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.