Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) determinants control antibody production in response to protein antigens. Vaccination with hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) frequently fails in hemodialyzed patients, but the genetic factors that modulate humoral responsiveness are poorly characterized. We studied the distribution of HLA class II alleles in 415 hemodialyzed Caucasian patients who received a full course of HBsAg vaccination, using class II oligotyping after genomic amplification of the DRB1 and DQB1 loci. Phenotype frequencies were compared in 114 non responders (anti-HBs antibodies < or = 10 SI units/liter), 301 responders (anti-HBs antibodies > 10 units/liter) and 471 healthy controls. DRB1*01 (DR1) and DRB1*15 (DR15) frequencies were lower in nonresponders than in responders and controls (DR1, 12.3% vs. 22.9% and 24.8%, respectively; DR15, 14% vs. 22.9% and 25.1%), while DRB1*03 (DR3) and DRB1*14 (DR14) frequencies were higher (DR3, 32.5% vs. 16.6% and 25.3%, respectively; DR14, 9.6% vs. 3% and 6.6%). Overall, 44.5% of DR3 or DR14 patients were nonresponders, compared to 18.1% of DR1 or DR15 patients (P = 0.0001). In conclusion the humoral response to HBsAg vaccine is influenced by class II allelic variants, which differ in their capacity to bind and present peptides to T lymphocytes.