The use of B-cell targeted therapies for the treatment of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) has generated great interest owing to the multiple pathogenic roles carried out by B cells in this disease. Strong support for targeting B cells is provided by genetic, immunological and clinical observations that place these cells at the center of SLE pathogenesis, as initiating, amplifying and effector cells. Interest in targeting B cells has also been fostered by the successful use of similar interventions to treat other autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, and by the initial promise shown by B-cell depletion to treat SLE in early studies. Although the initial high enthusiasm has been tempered by negative results from phase III trials of the B-cell-depleting agent rituximab in SLE, renewed vigor should be instilled in the field by the convergence of the latest results using agents that inhibit B-cell-activating factor (BAFF, also known as BLyS and tumor necrosis factor ligand superfamily, member 13b), further analysis of data from trials using rituximab and greatly improved understanding of B-cell biology. Combined, the available information identifies several new avenues for the therapeutic targeting of B cells in SLE.