The human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class II genotype DQA1*0301-DQB1*0302/DQA1*0501-DQB1*0201 has been identified as a marker strongly predisposing to insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) in Caucasian populations. Its frequency in control populations (1–3%) is still, however, 1 order of magnitude higher than the prevalence of IDDM, suggesting that its penetrance can be modified by protective factors. In this study we searched for such a factor in the DRB1 locus by studying DRB1*04 polymorphism in 174 European Caucasian IDDM patients and 73 nondiabetic control subjects, all sharing the HLA-DR3/DR4 phenotype. Significant protection was encoded by the DRB1*0403 allele, which was observed in 5 of 49 control subjects (10%) and none of 171 IDDM patients (0%) with the DQA1*0301-DQB1*0302/DQA1*0501-DQB1*0201 genotype (RR = 0.02 [0.01–0.18], P < 0.0005). These data support the concept that protective HLA class II genes can overrule the risk caused by HLA-DQ susceptibility dimers. They also contribute to a possible strategy to screen for nondiabetic individuals with increased genetic risk of developing IDDM.

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