Recent studies of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus, together with data from lupus-prone mice, suggest that inappropriate activation of type I interferon might have a role in disease pathogenesis. Serum levels of IFN-alpha are elevated in SLE patients, and gene expression profiling of peripheral blood cells shows that most lupus cases demonstrate an upregulation of IFN-responsive genes. Of interest, the IFN gene 'signature' correlates with more severe disease. The available data support a model whereby chromatin-containing immune complexes circulating in the blood of lupus patients stimulate leukocytes to produce IFN, which perpetuates disease. These emerging insights into the connection between IFN and lupus provide a host of new diagnostic and therapeutic opportunities.