The association of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) with certain HLA alleles is well documented in pediatric patients. Whether a similar association is found in adult-on-set IDDM is not clear, although the disease occurs after the age of 20 in 50% of cases. HLA class II DRB1, DQA1, and DQB1 alleles were studied in 402 type I diabetics and 405 healthy controls (all Caucasian) using oligonucleotide typing after gene amplification. Alleles DRB1*03, DRB1*04, DQB1*0201, DQB1*0302, DQA1*0301, and DQA1*0501 were indeed enriched in diabetics and the highest relative risk was observed in patients carrying both the DRB1*03-DQB1*0201 and the DRB1*0402 or DRB1*0405-DQB1*0302 haplotypes. However none of these alleles, or specific residues, could alone account for the susceptibility to IDDM. Furthermore, there were major differences in HLA class II gene profiles according to the age of onset. Patients with onset after 15 yr (n = 290) showed a significantly higher percentage of non-DR3/non-DR4 genotypes than those with childhood onset (n = 112) and a lower percentage of DR3/4 genotypes. These non-DR3/non-DR4 patients, although presenting clinically as IDDM type 1 patients, showed a lower frequency of islet cell antibodies at diagnosis and a significantly milder initial insulin deficiency. These subjects probably represent a particular subset of IDDM patients in whom frequency increases with age. The data confirm the genetic heterogeneity of IDDM and call for caution in extrapolating to adult patients the genetic concepts derived from childhood IDDM.