Mutations in the gene autoimmune regulator (AIRE) cause autoimmune polyendocrinopathy candidiasis ectodermal dystrophy. AIRE is expressed in thymic medullary epithelial cells, where it promotes the expression of tissue-restricted antigens. By the combined use of biochemical and biophysical methods, we show that AIRE selectively interacts with histone H3 through its first plant homeodomain (PHD) finger (AIRE-PHD1) and preferentially binds to non-methylated H3K4 (H3K4me0). Accordingly, in vivo AIRE binds to and activates promoters containing low levels of H3K4me3 in human embryonic kidney 293 cells. We conclude that AIRE-PHD1 is an important member of a newly identified class of PHD fingers that specifically recognize H3K4me0, thus providing a new link between the status of histone modifications and the regulation of tissue-restricted antigen expression in thymus.