The proteins of the major histocompatibility system (HLA in humans) play an essential role in the regulation of immune responses due to their involvement in the presentation of antigen to T lymphocytes. Thyroid follicular cells (thy-rocytes) from patients with Graves' disease and Hashimoto's thyroiditis demonstrate increased expression of HLA class I and aberrantly or inappropriately express class II antigens, a phenomenon that may play an important role in the pathogenesis of these autoimmune diseases. To establish if these changes in the expression of HLA molecules are characteristic of thyroid autoimmune disease, the immunopathological features (including class I and class II antigen expression) of 100 thyroidectomy specimens from patients with nonautoimmune thyroid disease were studied by indirect immunofluorescence, and the results compared with the findings in specimens from 14 patients with Graves' disease and 12 subjects undergoing laryngectomies for carcinoma. Increased class I product expression was found in 61% of all tissues studied, with maximal occurrence in papillary carcinomas (100%) and Graves' disease (86%), but it was also detected in 50% of the glands containing nodular lesions and in 16% of the control glands. Inappropriate class II molecule expression was found in Graves' disease (71%), hyperplastic nodules (53%), multinodular glands (44%), papillary carcinomas (38%), and 16% of the control glands. In summary, an increase in inappropriate HLA class I and class II expression was very common in nonautoimmune thyroid glands, but it generally occurred in the context of lymphocytic infiltration and thyroid autoantibodies (i.e. focal thyroiditis). Multiple correlation analyses of these 4 phenomena indicated heterogeneity in the mechanism leading to the inappropriate expression of thyrocyte class II antigens in the different conditions studied. © 1988 by The Endocrine Society.