Evidence from animal models and prospective studies of RA, multiple sclerosis, and type-1 diabetes suggest an important role for vitamin D as a modifiable environmental factor in autoimmune disease. This role has not been well studied in human SLE. We compared serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) levels between recently diagnosed SLE cases and matched controls, and examined disease characteristics in relationship to 25(OH)D among cases. Data from a population-based cohort of 123 recently diagnosed SLE patients and 240 controls were used. We found a trend toward lower 25(OH)D levels in cases compared to controls, which was statistically significant in Caucasians (p=0.04), controlling for age, sex, season, and smoking. Overall, 67% of the subjects were vitamin D deficient, with mean levels significantly lower among African Americans (15.9 ng/ml) compared to Caucasians (31.3 ng/ml). Critically low vitamin D levels (<10 ng/ml) were found in 22 of the SLE cases, with presence of renal disease being the strongest predictor (OR 13.3, p<0.01) followed by photosensitivity (OR 12.9, p<0.01). These results suggest vitamin D deficiency as a possible risk factor for SLE and provide guidance for future studies looking at a potential role of vitamin D in the prevention and/or treatment of SLE.