Rheumatoid arthritis is an organ-specific inflammatory disease of humans. Recent studies have focused on associations with non-MHC genes, new autoantigens and the role of innate immune responses. The success of anti-TNF-alpha in the majority (but, interestingly, not all) of patients has implications for disease mechanisms but the dangers of long-term therapy are becoming clearer. A number of new models of arthritis have been defined and emphasize the importance of the genetic make-up of the host. Attention has also focused on why the joint is a particularly vulnerable site for inflammatory responses.