The inflammatory response is known to have a significant role in certain autoimmune diseases and malignancies. We review current knowledge regarding the functions of activator protein 1 (AP-1) as an important modulator in several immune disorders and carcinomas. AP-1 is overexpressed in rheumatoid arthritis and in long-term allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation survivors; however, decreased expression of AP-1 has been observed in psoriasis, systematic lupus erythematosus and in patients who do not survive after hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. AP-1 also is implicated in the control of various cancer cells. Higher levels of AP-1 components are present in breast and endometrial carcinomas, colorectal cancer and in acute myeloid leukemia, Hodgkin's lymphoma and anaplastic large cell lymphoma, with downregulation in ovarian and gastric carcinomas and in patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia. AP-1 may enable the development of helpful markers to identify early-stage disease or to predict severity.