Cutaneous features of the protean disease lupus erythematous (LE) constitute 4 of 11 diagnostic criteria for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and are exhibited by approximately 3/4 of patients during the course of their disease. Because the pathogenesis of LE is multifactorial and polygenic, many of the details of the pathogenesis remain unclear. We review here the clinical features of cutaneous lupus and recent genetic data that elucidate potential candidate genes for both cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CLE) and SLE. We discuss advances in elucidating the autoimmune pathogenesis of CLE and SLE. Furthermore, promising experimental therapies based on these advances are reviewed in the context of B cell directed therapies, T cell directed therapies, disruption of B and T cell interactions, cytokine directed therapies and finally, end-effector targeted therapies.