Type 1 or insulin-dependent diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes the selective destruction of insulin-secreting beta cells in the pancreatic islets. Although this is a polygenic disease, with at least 20 genes implicated, the dominant susceptibility locus maps to the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), both in humans and in rodent models. However, in spite of progress on several fronts, the molecular pathology of autoimmune diabetes remains incompletely defined. Major areas of research include environmental trigger factors, the identification and role of beta-cell antigens in inducing and maintaining the autoimmune response, and the nature of the pathogenic and protective lymphocytes involved. In this review, we will focus on these areas to highlight recent advances in understanding the pathogenesis of autoimmune diabetes, drawing extensively on insights gained by studying the non-obese diabetic (NOD) mouse.