There are two subtypes of multiple sclerosis (MS) in Asians: the opticospinal (OSMS) form that shows a selective involvement of the optic nerve and the spinal cord and the conventional (CMS) form that has disseminated lesions in the central nervous system including the cerebrum, cerebellum and brainstem. Both show distinct human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class II associations. OSMS has similar features to the relapsing form of neuromyelitis optica (NMO) in Western populations. Recently, it was shown that antibodies to aquaporin-4 (AQP4) are specifically detected in NMO patients and in some Japanese patients with OSMS or recurrent optic neuritis or myelitis. To clarify the immunogenetic background of anti-AQP4 antibody production, we studied HLA-DRB1 and -DPB1 gene polymorphisms in anti-AQP4 antibody-positive and -negative patients with idiopathic demyelinating diseases, such as MS, recurrent optic neuritis and recurrent myelitis. The phenotypic frequency of the HLA-DPB1*0501 allele was significantly increased in anti-AQP4 antibody-positive patients (89.5%, odds ratio = 4.8; 95% confidence interval = 1.6–14.3, n = 38, Pcorr = 0.032) compared with controls (64.0%, n = 125) but not in either anti-AQP4 antibody-negative OSMS (75.0%, n = 32) or CMS (69.2%, n = 52) patients. There was no significant correlation between any HLA-DRB1 allele and the existence of anti-AQP4 antibody. These findings suggest that the emergence of anti-AQP4 antibody is reinforced by the presence of the HLA-DPB1*0501 allele in Japanese.