Understanding the extent to which genetic factors influence the immune response is important in the development of subunit vaccines. Associations with HLA gene polymorphisms appear insufficient to explain the range of variation in immune responses to vaccines and to infections by major pathogens. In this study of Gambian twins we report that regulation of the immune response to a variety of antigens from Plasmodium falciparum and Mycobacterium tuberculosis is controlled by factors which are encoded by genes that lie both within and outside the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). We define the relative contribution of these genes, which varies for different antigens. The cumulative genetic contribution of non-MHC genes to the total phenotypic variance exceeds that of the MHC-encoded genes.