The Toll-like receptor (TLR) family has important roles in microbial recognition and dendritic cell activation. TLRs 7 and 9 can recognize nucleic acids and trigger signalling cascades that activate plasmacytoid dendritic cells to produce interferon-alpha (IFN-alpha) (refs 7, 8). TLR7/9-mediated dendritic cell activation is critical for antiviral immunity but also contributes to the pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus, a disease in which serum IFN-alpha levels are elevated owing to plasmacytoid dendritic cell activation. TLR7/9-induced IFN-alpha induction depends on a molecular complex that contains a TLR adaptor, MyD88, and IFN regulatory factor 7 (IRF-7) (refs 10-14), but the underlying molecular mechanisms are as yet unknown. Here we show that IkappaB kinase-alpha (IKK-alpha) is critically involved in TLR7/9-induced IFN-alpha production. TLR7/9-induced IFN-alpha production was severely impaired in IKK-alpha-deficient plasmacytoid dendritic cells, whereas inflammatory cytokine induction was decreased but still occurred. Kinase-deficient IKK-alpha inhibited the ability of MyD88 to activate the Ifna promoter in synergy with IRF-7. Furthermore, IKK-alpha associated with and phosphorylated IRF-7. Our results identify a role for IKK-alpha in TLR7/9 signalling, and highlight IKK-alpha as a potential target for manipulating TLR-induced IFN-alpha production.