This review discusses mechanisms that link allelic variants of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II molecules (MHCII) to immune pathology. We focus on HLA (human leukocyte antigen)-DQ (DQ) alleles associated with celiac disease (CD) and type 1 diabetes (T1D) and the role of the murine DQ-like allele, H2-Ag7 (I-Ag7 or Ag7), in murine T1D. MHCII molecules bind peptides, and alleles vary in their peptide-binding specificity. Disease-associated alleles permit binding of disease-inducing peptides, such as gluten-derived, Glu-/Pro-rich gliadin peptides in CD and peptides from islet autoantigens, including insulin, in T1D. In addition, the CD-associated DQ2.5 and DQ8 alleles are unusual in their interactions with factors that regulate their peptide loading, invariant chain (Ii) and HLA-DM (DM). The same alleles, as well as other T1D DQ risk alleles (and Ag7), share nonpolar residues in place of Asp at β57 and prefer peptides that place acidic side chains in a pocket in the MHCII groove (P9). Antigen-presenting cells from T1D-susceptible mice and humans retain CLIP because of poor DM editing, although underlying mechanisms differ between species. We propose that these effects on peptide presentation make key contributions to CD and T1D pathogenesis.