Physiologically, HLA Class II molecules are primarily expressed on immunoregulatory cells. In recent years, it has been shown that tissues affected by autoimmunity, including beta cells of 'diabetic' pancreases, 'inappropriately' express these glycoproteins. Cytokines are potent Class II inducers on a variety of cells but they exert a heterogenous effect when incubated with different human endocrine cells, i.e. thyroid cells are readily inducible, beta cells are much more resistant. The fine modulation of Class II expression by cytokines has been extensively studied and recent information on their action on endocrine cells is reported here. The possibility that distinct environmental factors from those postulated until now may be responsible for triggering the inappropriate expression of MHC molecules in epithelial cells in vivo is also emphasized. Despite several similarities between human Type I diabetes and spontaneous animal models of the disease, major differences still exist. Transgenic models have now been produced. However, even if they offer interesting new insights, they have not so far provided the decisive answer to explain the pathogenesis of human autoimmune diseases. © 1989.