Wegener's granulomatosis and microscopic polyangiitis are idiopathic systemic vasculitides strongly associated with antineutrophil cytoplasmic autoantibodies (ANCA). In Wegener's granulomatosis, ANCA are mostly directed against proteinase 3 (PR3), whereas in microscopic polyangiitis ANCA are directed against myeloperoxidase; increases in levels of these autoantibodies precede or coincide with clinical relapses in many cases. In vitro, ANCA can further activate primed neutrophils to release reactive oxygen species and lytic enzymes, and, in conjunction with neutrophils, can damage and lyse endothelial cells. Patients with Wegener's granulomatosis or microscopic polyangiitis have an increased percentage of neutrophils that constitutively express PR3 on their membrane. These neutrophils can be stimulated by ANCA, without priming. In vivo, transfer of splenocytes from myeloperoxidase-deficient mice immunized with mouse myeloperoxidase into wild-type mice resulted in pauci-immune systemic vasculitis. A similar experiment in PR3-deficient mice did not cause significant vasculitic lesions. Together, clinical, in vitro and in vivo experimental data support a pathogenic role for ANCA in Wegener's granulomatosis and microscopic polyangiitis, although this role is more evident for myeloperoxidase-specific ANCA than for PR3-specific ANCA. Several controlled trials have led to an evidence-based approach for the treatment of ANCA-associated vasculitis, and further studies, based on new insights into pathogenesis, are in progress.