Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), one of the most common autoimmune disorders, is believed to be mediated via. T lymphocytes and genetic studies have shown that it is strongly associated with HLA-DR4. The DR4 subtypes DR4Dw4, DR4Dw14 and DR4Dw15 represent increased risk factors for RA, whereas DR4Dw10 is not associated with the disorder. Our study determines and compares the natural ligand motifs of these MHC class II molecules and identifies 60 natural ligands. At relative position 4 (P4), only the RA-associated DR4 molecules allow, or even prefer, negatively charged amino acids, but do not allow those which are positively charged (Arg, Lys). In the case of DR4Dw10 the preference for these amino acids is reversed. The results predict features of the putative RA-inducing peptide(s). A remarkable specificity, almost exclusively for negative charges (Asp, Glu), is found at P9 of the DR4Dw15 motif. This specificity can be ascribed to amino acid beta57 of the DR beta chain, and gives an important insight into the beta57-association of another autoimmune disease, insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus type I.