Interleukin 17-producing helper T cells (TH 17 cells) have a major role in protection against infections and in mediating autoimmune diseases, yet the mechanisms involved are incompletely understood. We found that interleukin 26 (IL-26), a human TH17 cell-derived cytokine, is a cationic amphipathic protein that kills extracellular bacteria via membrane-pore formation. Furthermore, TH17 cell-derived IL-26 formed complexes with bacterial DNA and self-DNA released by dying bacteria and host cells. The resulting IL-26-DNA complexes triggered the production of type I interferon by plasmacytoid dendritic cells via activation of Toll-like receptor 9, but independently of the IL-26 receptor. These findings provide insights into the potent antimicrobial and proinflammatory function of TH17 cells by showing that IL-26 is a natural human antimicrobial that promotes immune sensing of bacterial and host cell death. © 2015 Nature America, Inc.