The idiopathic inflammatory myopathies (IIM) are systemic connective tissue diseases defined by chronic muscle inflammation and weakness associated with autoimmunity. We have performed low to high resolution molecular typing to assess the genetic variability of major histocompatibility complex loci (HLA-A, -B, -Cw, -DRB1, and -DQA1) in a large population of European American patients with IIM (n = 571) representing the major myositis autoantibody groups. We established that alleles of the 8.1 ancestral haplotype (8.1 AH) are important risk factors for the development of IIM in patients producing anti-synthetase/anti-Jo-1, -La, -PM/Scl, and -Ro autoantibodies. Moreover, a random forests classification analysis suggested that 8.1 AH-associated alleles B*0801 and DRB1*0301 are the principal HLA risk markers. In addition, we have identified several novel HLA susceptibility factors associated distinctively with particular myositis-specific (MSA) and myositis-associated autoantibody (MAA) groups of the IIM. IIM patients with anti-PL-7 (anti-threonyl-tRNA synthetase) autoantibodies have a unique HLA Class I risk allele, Cw*0304 (pcorr = 0.046), and lack the 8.1 AH markers associated with other anti-synthetase autoantibodies (for example, anti-Jo-1 and anti-PL-12). In addition, HLA-B*5001 and DQA1*0104 are novel potential risk factors among anti-signal recognition particle autoantibody-positive IIM patients (pcorr = 0.024 and p = 0.010, respectively). Among those patients with MAA, HLA DRB1*11 and DQA1*06 alleles were identified as risk factors for myositis patients with anti-Ku (pcorr = 0.041) and anti-La (pcorr = 0.023) autoantibodies, respectively. Amino acid sequence analysis of the HLA DRB1 third hypervariable region identified a consensus motif, 70D (hydrophilic)/71R (basic)/74A (hydrophobic), conferring protection among patients producing anti-synthetase/anti-Jo-1 and -PM/Scl autoantibodies. Together, these data demonstrate that HLA signatures, comprising both risk and protective alleles or motifs, distinguish IIM patients with different myositis autoantibodies and may have diagnostic and pathogenic implications. Variations in associated polymorphisms for these immune response genes may reflect divergent pathogenic mechanisms and/or responses to unique environmental triggers in different groups of subjects resulting in the heterogeneous syndromes of the IIM.