Alopecia areata is a common disease, but for ethical reasons it seems difficult to perform large-scale studies to elucidate the pathogenesis and to develop new therapeutic approaches in man. It is therefore helpful to develop appropriate animal models. The Dundee experimental bald rat (DEBR) and the C3H/HeJ mouse are well-established animal models for alopecia areata and can be used for the study of genetic aspects, pathogenesis and therapy of the disease. In C3H/HeJ mice alopecia areata can be experimentally induced by grafting lesional skin from an affected mouse to a histocompatible recipient which offers the possibility to study the influence of various factors on the development of the disease. Studies on the C3H/HeJ mouse and the DEBR have corroborated the concept that alopecia areata is a T-cell mediated autoimmune disease and various steps and aspects of the pathogenesis have been elucidated. Based on this knowledge new therapeutic options may be developed such as inhibition of lymphocyte-homing by an anti-CD44v10 antibody, or inhibition of costimulation by monoclonal antibodies. Therapeutic studies in the C3H/HeJ mouse and the DEBR suggest that alopecia areata can be treated by topical tacrolimus but treatment in humans may only be successful after development of an improved vehicle that facilitates penetration of tacrolimus down to the hair bulb. Current investigations in mice are designed to elucidate the mechanisms how contact sensitizers act in the treatment of alopecia areata, and this will hopefully lead to the development of more specific approaches based on the beneficial effect of contact sensitizers.