Patients with an autosomal recessive combined immunodeficiency are characterized by an HLA negative phenotype of activated T and B lymphocytes. To determine the molecular basis of this syndrome we have studied the biosynthesis of class I and II antigens and the expression of relevant genes in these patients. The synthesis of the HLA A, B, and C heavy chain is markedly decreased, while beta 2 microglobulin is made in normal amounts. Biosynthesis of HLA-DR alpha-chain and beta-chain is abolished in the lymphocytes of these patients and there is a total absence of mRNA for either alpha-chains or beta-chains of HLA-DR. This indicates that the lack of class II antigen on these lymphocytes results from a block in the expression of HLA-DR genes. The Ii-chain, the invariant polypeptide associated intracellularly with HLA-DR, and its mRNA are made in normal amounts. Since the structural genes coding for class II polypeptides do not seem to be affected, the reported genetic defect in the patients concerns the regulation of the expression of HLA-DR genes.