RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) are essential for the development and function of the immune system. They interact dynamically with RNA to control its biogenesis and turnover by transcription-dependent and transcription-independent mechanisms. In this Review, we discuss the molecular mechanisms by which RBPs allow gene expression changes to occur at different speeds and to varying degrees, and which RBPs regulate the diversity of the transcriptome and proteome. These proteins are nodes for integration of transcriptional and signaling networks and are intimately linked to intermediary metabolism. They are essential components of regulatory feedback mechanisms that maintain immune tolerance and limit inflammation. The role of RBPs in malignancy and autoimmunity has led to their emergence as targets for the development of new therapeutic modalities.