The supertypic HLA-DRw53 specificity is associated with three allelic class II specificities defined by alloantisera: HLA-DR4, -DR7, and DRw9. The present study demonstrates the complexity of this supertypic DR specificity by comparing two DRw53-related determinants defined by the monoclonal antibodies PL3 and 109d6. For every HLA-DR4 cell line tested, both monoclonal antibodies were found to bind to the same subpopulation of DR molecules. This PL3+, 109d6+ DR subpopulation is also found on most, but not all, DR7+ cell lines with a beta-chain pattern that is identical to the beta-chain pattern of the PL3+, 109d6+ subpopulation on DR4 cell lines. However, some DR7+ cells which carry the HLA haplotype Bw57, DR7, DRw53, DQw3 were also found which completely lack the expression of the 109d6 determinant, but continue to express the PL3 determinant and some of the DRw53 determinants recognized by alloantisera. This results from the fact that the PL3 determinant is expressed on all of the DR molecules found on DR7 cells, including the distinct subpopulation of molecules that carry the HLA-DR7 determinant recognized by the monoclonal antibody SFR16-DR7. This PL3+, SFR16-DR7+ subpopulation does not carry the 109d6 determinant, demonstrating that the PL3 and 109d6 DRw53-related determinants are distinct and can be expressed on a different number of DR molecules, depending on the allotype of the cells. Blocking studies were also performed by using these monoclonal antibodies with alloreactive HLA-DR7-specific cytotoxic T cell clones. In these studies, the T cell-defined HLA-DR7 determinants were found to be carried by the same subpopulation of DR molecules recognized by the HLA-DR7-specific monoclonal antibody and not carried by the DR molecules recognized by 109d6. The DR7+ cell lines which do not express the 109d6 determinant also fail to express another supertypic determinant recognized by the monoclonal antibody IIIE3 carried on this molecule. Furthermore, no additional allelic forms of this unique DR beta-chain were found associated with the nonpolymorphic DR alpha-chain on these cells, suggesting that this DR beta-chain gene is not expressed. These cells also behave as homozygous typing cells for the Dw11 subtype of DR7 in HLA-D typing in the mixed lymphocyte culture assay. This suggests that the lack of expression of a specific class II gene may contribute additional genetic polymorphism within the known HLA-DR allotypes.