Important advances in our understanding of the relationships between adipokines, inflammation and the immune response have been achieved in the past 10 years. White adipose tissue has emerged as a highly dynamic organ that releases a plethora of immune and inflammatory mediators that are involved in numerous diseases, including not only rheumatic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus, but also cardiovascular and metabolic complications that are frequently observed in rheumatic diseases. Our rapidly growing knowledge of adipokine biology is revealing the complexity of these amazing proteins, thereby redefining white adipose tissue as a key element of the inflammatory and immune response in rheumatic diseases. Adipokines exert potent modulatory actions on target tissues and cells involved in rheumatic disease, including cartilage, synovium, bone and various immune cells. In this Review, we describe the most recent advances in adipokine research in the context of rheumatic diseases, focusing primarily on leptin, adiponectin, visfatin and resistin, and also the potential role of newly identified adipokines such as chemerin, lipocalin 2 and serum amyloid A3.