Collagen induced arthritis (CIA) is an autoimmune model that in many ways resembles rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Immunization of genetically susceptible strains of rodents and primates with type II collagen (CII) leads to the development of a severe polyarticular arthritis that is mediated by an autoimmune response. Like RA, synovitis and erosions of cartilage and bone are hallmarks of CIA, and susceptibility to both RA and CIA is linked to the expression of specific MHC class II molecules. Although not identical to RA, CIA clearly establishes the biological plausibility that an autoimmune reaction to a cartilage component can lead to a chronic, destructive, polyarthritis. Although it is induced in susceptible animals by immunization with heterologous CII, it is the autoreactive component of the immune response that leads to disease. A wealth of evidence indicates that synovitis is initiated by the production of pathogenic autoreactive antibodies capable of fixing and activating complement. The elucidation of the specific amino acid sequences of collagen that are recognized by the MHC molecules has enabled at least two approaches to specific immunotherapy to be considered. Firstly, small synthetic peptides representing dominant epitopes have been used as effectively as the original antigen as a tolerogen. The rather fastidious physicochemical properties of collagen that make it difficult for its routine use in therapy are thereby circumvented by the use of oligopeptides. Secondly, analysis of the specific amino acid side chains that are involved in MHC contact and TCR recognition enables analog peptides to be devised which can specifically and exquisitely inhibit the response to CII, preventing the onset of arthritis. Further investigations involving this model may contribute to the development of specific immunotherapies in the human disorder.