The study of autoimmune thyroid disorders (AITD) has greatly contributed to our knowledge of autoimmunity. Graves' disease and Hashimoto's thyroiditis represent two ends of the range of autoimmune responses seen in AITD. Autoantibodies reactive to cytoplasmic antigens are associated with cell damage, and thyrotropin (TSH)-receptor antibodies (TRAb) influence the function and growth of the gland and play a major role in pathogenesis. The heterogeneous nature of TRAb is well accepted. Besides their long-known thyroid stimulating activity, TRAb can act as blocking antibodies or growth-promoting antibodies and, thus, cause hypothyroidism (primary myxedema) or endemic and sporadic goiters, respectively. Advanced methodologies for detection of these antibodies with the TSH-receptor assay and thyroid cell bioassay allow various activities to be measured. Current data using these assays confirm the presence of heterogeneity of functional activities of TRAb(s) in vivo. The activity of predominating antibody may relate to clinical presentation. This indicates a need for paired determinations of both TSH-binding inhibitory immunoglobulin (TBII) and thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI) for accurate clinical correlations. Cloning the TSH-receptor gene has clarified its structure and function. The future identification of its epitopes will further delineate the clinical role of these antibodies and may allow development of new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches.