Abstract The critical function of the immune system is to discriminate self from non-self. Tolerance against self-antigens is a highly regulated process and, in order to maintain it, the immune system must be able to distinguish self-reactive lymphocytes as they develop. The presence of autoantibodies is the consequence of breakdown of tolerance and, although they are an important serological feature of autoimmune diseases, their presence is not exclusive of these conditions. Antibodies against self-antigens are also found in cancer, during massive tissue damage and even in healthy subjects. Natural autoantibodies provide immediate protection against infection and also prevent inflammation by facilitating the clearance of oxidized lipids, oxidized proteins, and apoptotic cells; their role in development of autoimmunity is still unclear. Detection of serum autoantibodies in clinical practice has become more available to clinicians worldwide while providing a powerful diagnostic tool. This review discusses the clinical significance of autoantibodies, their pathogenic mechanisms in autoimmune diseases and, finally, illustrates the technology available for appropriate autoantibody detection.