MHC class II molecules present internalized antigens to the immune system. They have long been known to associate with a polypeptide called the invariant chain. Recent findings have revealed that this polypeptide performs two functions. First, it prevents class II molecules from binding antigenic peptides at the site of synthesis of class II molecules in the endoplasmic reticulum.Second, it targets class II molecules to their destination in the endocytic pathway, where they pick up antigenic peptides derived from endocytosed antigens. Short sequences in the cytoplasmic portion of the invariant chain serve as subcellular address labels. The functions of the invariant chain help to explain how the immune system divides its defence against foreign pathogens between cytotoxic T cells and antibodies.