Our understanding of the genetic basis of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) has been rapidly advanced using large-scale, case-control, candidate gene studies as well as genome-wide association studies during the past 3 years. These techniques have identified more than 30 robust genetic associations with SLE including genetic variants of HLA and Fcγ receptor genes, IRF5, STAT4, PTPN22, TNFAIP3, BLK, BANK1, TNFSF4 and ITGAM. Most SLE-associated gene products participate in key pathogenic pathways, including Toll-like receptor and type I interferon signaling pathways, immune regulation pathways and those that control the clearance of immune complexes. Disease-associated loci that have not yet been demonstrated to have important functions in the immune system might provide new clues to the underlying molecular mechanisms that contribute to the pathogenesis or progression of SLE. Of note, genetic risk factors that are shared between SLE and other immune-related diseases highlight common pathways in the pathophysiology of these diseases, and might provide innovative molecular targets for therapeutic interventions.