Multiple investigators have undertaken genetic studies in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis populations in attempts to define genetic links to disease in hopes that this would improve understanding of disease pathogenesis and target pathways for therapy. Multiple genes have been evaluated using a candidate gene approach with limited success, with results suggesting a disease modifier effect rather than a disease causing effect. Using this approach, associations have been observed between idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and specific polymorphisms in genes encoding interleukin-1 receptor antagonist, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, and complement receptor 1. Recently investigators have used familial pulmonary fibrosis cohorts to evaluate for genetic mutations associated with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Using one pulmonary fibrosis kindred, a mutation in the gene encoding surfactant protein C was identified as the cause of pulmonary fibrosis in this family. Subsequently, another individual with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis was identified with a different mutation in surfactant protein C. Though rarely found in patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, these surfactant protein C mutations highlight the importance of the alveolar epithelium in disease pathogenesis. A recent collaboration between investigators at three major centers has resulted in the largest collection of families with pulmonary fibrosis to date, with hopes that this effort will identify genetic mutations associated with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. If genetic links to idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis are defined in this study, then the pathways involved with these genes and gene products can be targeted by investigators to help identify potential treatment options for this disease.