INTRODUCTIONRheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a complex polygenic disease of unknown etiology. HLA-DRB1 alleles encoding the shared epitope (SE) (RAA amino acid pattern in positions 72 to 74 of the third hypervariable region of the DRbeta1 chain) are associated with RA susceptibility. A new classification of HLA-DRB1 SE alleles has been developed by Tezenas du Montcel and colleagues to refine the association between HLA-DRB1 and RA. In the present study, we used RA samples collected worldwide to investigate the relevance of this new HLA-DRB1 classification in terms of RA susceptibility across various Caucasoid and non-Caucasoid patients.METHODSEighteen subsamples were defined from a total number of 759 cases and 789 controls and grouped in 10 samples on the basis of their ethnic origin. HLA-DRB1 alleles were divided into five groups (S1, S2, S3D, S3P, and X) according to the new HLA-DRB1 allele classification. The whole analysis was performed by comparing carrier frequencies for the five HLA-DRB1 allele groups between RA patients and controls across the 10 Caucasoid and non-Caucasoid samples. The Mantel-Haenszel method of meta-analysis provided a global odds ratio (OR) estimate with 95% confidence interval (CI).RESULTSA positive association with RA susceptibility was found for S2 allele carriers (OR 2.15, 95% CI 1.54 to 3.00; p < 10(-5)) and S3P allele carriers (OR 2.74, 95% CI 2.01 to 3.74; p < 10(-5)). A negative association was found for S1 alleles (OR 0.60, 95% CI 0.48 to 0.76; p < 10(-4)) and X alleles (OR 0.58, 95% CI 0.39 to 0.84; p = 4 x 10(-3)). No significant association was highlighted for the S3D group of alleles (OR 0.89, 95% CI 0.69 to 1.14; p = 0.89). The complementary genotype analysis fit with the genotype risk hierarchy previously reported in Caucasoid RA patients.CONCLUSIONSo far, the present study is the first attempt to investigate the relevance of this new HLA-DRB1 classification in terms of RA susceptibility on both Caucasoid and non-Caucasoid samples. Our results support the hypothesis of a differential role played by different HLA-DRB1 allele groups in RA susceptibility across different ethnic backgrounds and confirm the interest of such an HLA-DRB1 classification in differentiating predisposing and protective alleles.