In order to define the HLA-DR and DQ alleles, as well as the specific DQA1 and DQB1 chain genes involved in the anti-Ro/La autoantibody responses, RFLP analysis and sequence-specific oligonucleotide typing was carried out on 58 Caucasians and 48 American blacks with SLE or Sjögren's syndrome and anti-Ro antibodies. Among both Caucasian and black patients, the highest relative risk for the anti-Ro response (both with and without accompanying anti-La) was conferred by heterozygosity for the DQw2.1 (in linkage disequilibrium with HLA-DR3) and DQw6 (a subtype of DQw1) alleles compared with either 269 normal race-matched controls or 80 anti-Ro negative SLE/Sjögren's syndrome patients. Analysis of individual DQA1 and DQB1 chain alleles revealed that DQA1*0501 and DQB1*0201 were most frequent, followed by DQA1 and DQB1 alleles comprising DQw6. In patients not possessing DQw2.1 and/or DQw6 alleles, HLA-DQB1*0302 and HLA-DQA1*0401 (especially in blacks) were significantly increased. Nucleotide sequence analysis of these associated alleles showed that 100% of patients with anti-Ro had a glutamine residue at position 34 of the outermost domain of the DQA1 chain and/or a leucine at position 26 of the outermost domain of the DQB1 chain. Patients with anti-Ro plus La were more likely to have all four of their DQA1/DQB1 chains containing these amino acid residues than either anti-Ro-negative SLE patients or controls. These data implicate specific amino acid residues on both DQA1 and DQB1 chains located in the floor of the Ag binding cleft of the HLA-DQA1:B1 heterodimer and further suggest a role for "gene dosage" in the anti-Ro (+/- La) autoantibody response.