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The emerging role of interleukin (IL)-17 as a hallmark proinflammatory cytokine of the adaptive immune system, produced primarily by a new T helper cell subset termed ‘Th17’, has received considerable attention. Differentiation of Th17 cells is driven by the simultaneous presence of transforming growth factor-β and certain inflammatory cytokines (e.g. IL-6, IL-21), and recent studies have shown that inflammation instigated by IL-17-producing cells is central to the development and pathogenesis of several human autoimmune diseases and animal models of autoimmunity. In this review, we focus on the information regarding IL-17 and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), a chronic autoimmune disease. The work that has explored the development and behaviour of IL-17-producing cells in SLE is discussed, and different mechanisms by which IL-17 could potentially augment inflammation and autoantibody production in the context of SLE are proposed.