Enzymes that degrade nucleic acids are emerging as important players in the pathogenesis of inflammatory disease. This is exemplified by the recent identification of four genes that cause the childhood inflammatory disorder, Aicardi-Goutières syndrome (AGS). This is an autosomal recessive neurological condition whose clinical and immunological features parallel those of congenital viral infection. The four AGS genes encode two nucleases: TREX1 and the hetero-trimeric Ribonuclease H2 (RNase H2) complex. The biochemical activity of these enzymes was initially characterised 30 years ago but a role in neurological inflammation was entirely unanticipated until they were found to be mutated in AGS. This has led to a hypothesis that accumulation of intracellular nucleic acids occurs as a consequence of mutation in these enzymes and triggers an inflammatory response through activation of innate immune pattern recognition receptors.