The role of autoantibodies in the etiology of autoimmune diseases remains unclear. However, an examination of the sequences of these autoantibodies can be informative. Antibody sequences that violate constraints normally imposed during ontogeny and during development point to a failure of regulation. The existence of clonally related sequences indicates that production of these antibodies may frequently be driven by self-antigen. A better understanding of the mechanisms that normally constrain the composition of the antibody repertoire and of the nature of the inciting and/or driving antigens may yield new insights into both the pathogenesis and potential treatment of these crippling diseases.