An individual's major histocompatibility complex (MHC) ancestral haplotype (AH) is the clearest single determinant of susceptibility to MHC associated immunopathological disease, as it defines the alleles carried at all loci in the MHC. However, the direct effects of any of the 150-200 genes that constitute the MHC are difficult to determine since recombination only occurs at defined hotspots. This review concerns the 8.1 AH (HLA-A1, C7, B8, C4AQ0, C4B1, DR3, DQ2), which is carried by most Caucasians with HLA-B8. It is associated with accelerated human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) disease, and susceptibility to insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), systemic lupus erythematosus, dermatitis herpetiformis, common variable immunodeficiency and IgA deficiency, myasthenia gravis and several other conditions. We have mapped susceptibility genes for HIV, IDDM and myasthenia gravis to the central MHC between HLA-B and the tumour necrosis factor or complement genes. Here we consider which of the remaining 8.1-associated diseases are more closely associated with HLA-DR3 and/or DQ2. Several candidate genes in the central MHC have the potential to modulate immune or inflammatory responses in an antigen-independent manner, as is seen in studies of cultured cells from healthy carriers of the 8.1 AH. Hence these genes may act as a common co-factor in the diverse immunopathological conditions associated with the 8.1 AH.