Efforts to understand autoimmunity have been pursued relentlessly for several decades. It has become apparent that the immune system evolved multiple mechanisms for controlling self-reactivity, and defects in one or more of these mechanisms can lead to a breakdown of tolerance. Among the multitude of lesions associated with disease, the most common seem to affect peripheral tolerance rather than central tolerance. The initial trigger for both systemic autoimmune disorders and organ-specific autoimmune disorders probably involves the recognition of self or foreign molecules, especially nucleic acids, by innate sensors. Such recognition, in turn, triggers inflammatory responses and the engagement of previously quiescent autoreactive T cells and B cells. Here we summarize the most prominent autoimmune pathways and identify key issues that require resolution for full understanding of pathogenic autoimmunity.