Molecular mimicry of viral antigens with self determinants has been proposed as one of the pathogenic mechanisms in autoimmune disease. Evidence of viral mimicry in animal models of autoimmunity is accumulating. Murine adenovirus, Semliki forest virus, lactate dehydrogenase-elevating virus, herpes simplex virus type-1, hepatitis B virus, encephalomyocarditis virus, Theiler's murine encephalomyelitis virus, Coxsackievirus and cytomegalovirus have been found to mimic physiologically important host proteins. However, epitope homology of a viral and self determinant is not in itself strong evidence for mimicry as a pathogenic mechanism. The mimicking determinant must also be capable of inducing disease in the absence of replicative virus. Animal models provide evaluation of the viral trigger, and development and therapy for autoimmune diseases. Identification of host proteins that can induce disease together with the knowledge of immune system dysregulation, genetic association and environmental factors may lead to improved immunotherapeutic strategies for human autoimmune diseases.