Worldwide population studies have generally agreed that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is associated with a group of HLA-DRB1 alleles which share a common amino acid sequence at residues 70-74. This represents the first study to investigate the association of HLA-DRB1 genes with susceptibility to RA amongst Malay, Chinese and Indian ethnic groups in Malaysia. One hundred and thirty three RA patients and one hundred and sixty seven healthy controls were recruited. The HLA-DRB1 alleles were studied using the Phototyping method. The subtypes of HLA-DR4 were detected by "high resolution" PCR-SSP DRB1*04 typing techniques. The prevalence of HLA-DRB1*0405 was significantly higher in Malay patients with RA than in healthy controls (28.9 vs. 8.3%, p = 0.0016, OR = 4.48, 95% CI = 1.26-16.69). Similarly, DRB1*0405 was more common in Chinese RA patients than in controls (30.0 vs. 6.7%, p = 0.0029, OR = 6.00, 95% CI = 1.67-23.48). In addition, DRB1*0901 was a predisposing factor (32.0 vs. 6.7%,p = 0.0015, OR = 6.59, 95% CI = 1.85-25.64) and *0301/04 had a protective role (4.0vs. 25.0%, p = 0.00562, OR = 0.13, 95% CI = 0.02-0.62) in Malaysian Chinese RA. RA in Indians was associated with DRB1*1001 (51.1 vs. 8.5%,p = 0.00002, OR = 11.24, 95% CI = 3.13-44.18). DRB1*0701 (13.3 vs. 42.6%,p = 0.0022, OR = 2.73, 95% CI = 1.40-5.37) may have a protective effect. Therefore, in the Malaysian population, RA is primarily associated with the QRRAA motif, and we suggest that genetic factors play a crucial role in the pathogenesis of RA, compared to environmental factors.