The HLA system is the major histocompatibility system of man and was found through a search for blood group-like determinants on white blood cells that would be effective in matching for transplantation. The HLA system has its counterparts in other species of mammals, birds, and reptiles including the much studied H2 system of the mouse. The HLA system started from a series of antigens defined by a combination of relatively crude serology and genetics, supported by extensive statistical analysis. It has turned out to be a complex genetic region determining two major sets of cell surface products which mediate essential functional interactions between cells of the immune system, and so have a major role in the control of the immune response. Polymorphism in the HLA region is thus associated with a wide variety of diseases with an immune aetiology.