Most patients with rheumatoid arthritis express particular HLA-DR alleles. The DRbeta1 chains of these alleles share a highly homologous amino acid motif, in their third hypervariable (HV3) region, and this motif seems to help the development of rheumatoid arthritis via unknown mechanisms. In an attempt to identify a ligand of this motif, we screened bacterial proteins. HV3 peptides from HLA-DRB1 alleles containing a QKRAA or RRRAA motif bound the 70-kD heat shock protein (HSP) from Escherichia coli, dnaK. In lymphoblastoid cells homozygous for these same HLA-DRB1 alleles the constitutive 70-kD HSP, HSP73, that targets selected proteins to lysosomes coprecipitated with HLA-DR. Thus the QKRAA and RRRAA amino acid motifs of HLA-DR mediate binding of HLA-DR to HSP73. This property may influence the intracellular route, processing or peptide associations of the HLA-DRbeta1 chain in these two rheumatoid arthritis-associated alleles.