Insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) is an immunopathological condition involving loss of beta cell function, but views of how this arises are confusing and contradictory. For example, studies with non-obese diabetic mice implicate abnormal cytokine production in disease pathogenesis, but give little insight into how this arises. Many genetic and environmental risk factors have been described, but no single factor predicts the development of disease. Moreover, the prevalence of auto-antibodies suggests an autoimmune aetiology, but no antigen is recognized by all individuals. As an aid to understanding how IDDM develops, this review considers the risk factors as distinct starting points on a journey, and reviews current literature in search of the point where the roads from each origin merge into a highway to diabetes.