IL-12p40 is known as a component of the bioactive cytokines interleukin (IL)-12 and IL-23 but it is not widely recognized as having intrinsic functional activity. Recent publications have altered this perception and support an independent role for IL-12p40. IL-12p40 is induced in excess over the other subunits of IL-12 and IL-23 and can exist in a monomeric or homodimeric form. Its most widely appreciated function is to provide a negative feedback loop by competitively binding to the IL-12 receptor. However, IL-12p40 acts as a chemoattractant for macrophages and promotes the migration of bacterially stimulated dendritic cells. It is associated with several pathogenic inflammatory responses such as silicosis, graft rejection and asthma but it is also protective in a mycobacterial model. An appreciation of the independent function of IL-12p40 is important for improving our understanding of both protective and pathogenic immune responses.