The risk of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) seems to be associated with reduced fecundity and with breastfeeding; these apparently contradictory risk factors can be explained by their association with high prolactin concentrations. The only consistent genetic association with RA is for genes encoded in the HLA complex, particularly HLA DR4. We have identified some data indicating that the effects of breastfeeding and nulliparity are modified by HLA DR4 status, suggesting an interaction between genetic and reproductive risk factors in the aetiology of RA. The prolactin gene is in close proximity to the HLA region on the short arm of chromosome six. We therefore propose the hypothesis that the associations between DR4 and reproductive risk factors in RA are due to linkage disequilibrium between DR4 and an abnormally regulated prolactin gene polymorphism.