Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is increasingly recognized as a risk factor for the development of premature atherosclerosis. The inflammatory process in both of these diseases is controlled by a variety of cell types of the innate and adaptive immune systems. Recent studies from several groups, including ours, have revealed a critical role of a unique subset of lymphocytes, termed invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells, in the development of lupus-like autoimmunity and atherosclerosis in animal models. iNKT cells appear to play complex and divergent roles in the development of SLE and atherosclerosis. Our findings suggest that alterations in iNKT cell functions during the development of SLE may be related to the increased risk of SLE patients to develop atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. We found that iNKT cell activation with the sponge-derived glycolipid alpha- galactosylceramide generally protects against the development of lupus-like autoimmunity in mice, whereas it exacerbates atherosclerosis. Therefore, while our studies have identified iNKT cells as potential therapeutic targets for SLE, further studies are necessary to design drugs that will avoid the underlying harmful effects of iNKT cell activation on the development of atherosclerosis.