A potential role for viral and bacterial-viral interactions in the pathogenesis of autoimmune disease has been long recognized. Recently, intensive investigation has begun to decipher interactions between specific microbes with the host that contribute toward autoimmunity. This work has primarily focused on known viral and bacterial pathogens. A major challenge is to determine the role of bacteria that are typically considered as commensals as well as chronic viruses. Furthermore, equally challenging is to prove causality given the potential complexity of microbe-microbe interactions. Important initial contributions to this field have shown that specific interactions of microbes with hosts that contain a background of genetic susceptibility can play a role in autoimmune pathogenesis. In this review, we describe principles of immune tolerance with a focus on its breakdown during pathogenic as well as commensal relationships between the host and the microbial world.