The association between human leukocyte antigen (HLA) and insulin-dependent diabetes was studied in a large population-based investigation using genotyping of 425 new-onset patients, 0-14 years of age, and 367 matched control subjects. As many as 97% of patients compared with 75% of control subjects were positive for one or several of DQA1*0301, DQA1*0501, DQB1*0302, or DQB1*0201. Asp-57 DQB was present among 28% of patients, indicating that this residue alone does not confer protection. Combining Asp-57 DQB1 with either Arg-52 DQA1 or Leu-69 DQA1 did not explain susceptibility or protection either. DQA1*0301-DQB1*0302 (DQ8) and DQA1*0301-DQB1*0301 (DQ7) are identical except for four amino acid substitutions in the beta-chain, but DQ8 was positively (odds ratio 8.07; P < 0.001) and DQ7 negatively (odds ratio 0.38; P < 0.001) associated with the disease. Molecular modeling was used to determine whether physiochemical properties such as steric factors and surface electrostatic potentials also differ in a systematic way for various DQ molecules. Amino acids were substituted systematically at the four polymorphic sites, and the solvent-accessible surfaces and electrostatic potentials were computed for each molecule. Dramatic alterations in electrostatic potential were seen for double substitutions at position 45 (G45E) and 57 (A57D) of DQB1. The variation of physicochemical properties due to polymorphic substitutions may be significant to the mechanism of HLA-DQ association with insulin-dependent diabetes, via the effect these property variations have on peptide antigen binding selectivity and subsequent interactions with specific T-cell receptors.