A recent workshop discussed the recognition of multiple distinct ligands by individual T cell and B cell receptors and the implications of this discovery for lymphocyte biology. The workshop recommends general use of the term polyspecificity because it emphasizes two fundamental aspects, the inherent specificity of receptor recognition and the ability to recognize multiple ligands. Many different examples of polyspecificity and the structural mechanisms were discussed, and the group concluded that polyspecificity is a general, inherent feature of TCR and antibody recognition. This review summarizes the relevance of polyspecificity for lymphocyte development, activation and disease processes. (c) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.