Despite matching for serologically defined HLA-A, B, DR antigens, acute graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) is a major complication contributing to increased morbidity and mortality in patients who undergo marrow transplantation from unrelated donors. The extent to which unrecognized mismatching for alleles that encode DR1-DR18 contribute to the increased risk of acute GVHD and overall survival is unknown. We analyzed 364 patients and their HLA-A, B, DR serologically matched donors to determine whether molecular typing of DRB1 alleles can allow more accurate donor/recipient matching and thereby improve clinical outcome after marrow transplantation. DRB1 alleles were typed by sequence-specific oligonucleotide probe hybridization methods. Selected alleles were confirmed by DNA sequencing. Of the 364 pairs, 305 were matched and 59 were mismatched for DRB1. The probability of moderate to severe acute GVHD was .48 for the matched and .70 for the mismatched patients. Compared with mismatched patients, the estimated relative risk (RR) of GVHD for matched patients was .58 (95% confidence interval [CI], .40 to .85). DRB1 matching decreased the risk of transplant- related mortality (RR, .66; 95% CI, .44 to .97) and was associated with decreased overall mortality (RR, .71; 95% CI, .51 to 1.0). Therefore, matching DRB1 alleles of the donor and recipient decreases the risk of acute GVHD and improves survival after unrelated marrow transplantation. These results indicate that prospective matching of patients and donors for DRB1 alleles is warranted.