MHC class II molecules are critical determinants of genetic susceptibility to human type 1 diabetes. In patients, the most common haplotype contains the DRA1*0101-DRB1*0401 (DR4) and DQA1*0301-DQB1*0302 (DQ8) loci. To assess directly the relative roles of HLA-DQ8 and DR4 for diabetes development in vivo, we generated C57BL/6 transgenic mice that lack endogenous mouse MHC class II molecules but express HLA-DQ8 and/or DR4. Neither HLA-DQ nor HLA-DR transgenic mice developed insulitis or spontaneous diabetes. However, when they were crossed to transgenic mice (C57BL/6) expressing the B7.1 costimulatory molecules on pancreatic beta cells that do not normally develop diabetes, T cells from these double transgenic mice were no longer tolerant to islet autoantigens. The majority of DQ8/RIP-B7 mice developed spontaneous diabetes, whereas only 25% of DR4/RIP-B7 mice did so. Interestingly, when DQ8 and DR4 were coexpressed (DQ8DR4/RIP-B7), only 23% of these mice developed diabetes, an incidence indistinguishable from the DR4/RIP-B7 mice. T cells from both DR4/RIP-B7 and DQ8DR4/RIP-B7 mice, unlike those from DQ8/RIP-B7 mice, exhibited a Th2-like phenotype. Thus, the expression of DR4 appeared to downregulate DQ8-restricted autoreactive T cells in DQ8DR4/RIP-B7 mice. Our data suggest that although both DQ8 and DR4 can promote spontaneous diabetes in mice with a non-autoimmune-prone genetic background, the diabetogenic effect of the DQ8 allele is much greater, whereas DR4 expression downregulates the diabetogenic effect of DQ8, perhaps by enhancing Th2-like immune responses.