Fc gamma receptor-dependent mononuclear phagocyte system (MPS) clearance of opsonized erythrocytes is prolonged in healthy adults with the class II alloantigens HLA-DR2, DR3, or DQw1, despite normal receptor-specific Fc ligand binding by monocytes in these groups. To investigate the basis for the MPS dysfunction, we determined the phagocytic capacity of blood monocytes from 66 disease-free adults and analyzed the data according to the HLA type of the subjects. The data demonstrate decreased phagocytosis of IgG-sensitized erythrocytes (EA) by monocytes from HLA-DR2, DR3, or DQw1-positive subjects compared with normals without these B cell alloantigens (2.87 +/- 0.83 erythrocytes/monocyte vs 3.87 +/- 1.05, p less than 0.004; 3.01 +/- 0.94 vs 3.87 +/- 1.05, p less than 0.02; 3.18 +/- 0.89 vs 3.87 +/- 1.05, p less than 0.02, respectively). Because HLA-DR2 and DQw1 are in linkage disequilibrium, we compared EA phagocytosis in subjects with DQw1 alone to normals without HLA-DR2, DR3, or DQw1. Among subjects positive only for DQw1, no significant decrease in phagocytosis could be seen (3.46 +/- 0.95 vs 3.87 +/- 1.05, p = NS). To determine whether these differences represented an Fc receptor-specific dysfunction or a more generalized decrease in phagocytic activity, we compared the quantitative phagocytosis of EA with that of neuraminidase-treated erythrocytes (EN), which is Fc receptor independent and beta-glucan receptor mediated. No segregation of phagocytic capacity for EN by HLA class II phenotypes could be demonstrated (DR2, 2.68 +/- 1.30 erythrocytes/monocyte; DR3, 2.95 +/- 1.30; DQw1, 2.84 +/- 1.15; others, 3.06 +/- 1.14). Our data indicate that the decrease in phagocytosis by blood monocytes from normal individuals with HLA-DR2 or DR3, the class II alloantigens associated with systemic lupus erythematosus and other autoimmune diseases, is specific for the Fc receptor-mediated process. This alteration of Fc receptor function among immunogenetically defined individuals may contribute to their predisposition to autoimmune disease. These differences may also apply to other Fc receptor-initiated cellular functions.