1. In no ethnic group is the overall association between systemic sclerosis and the MHC strong enough for direct clinical use. MHC associations do support the classification of the disease into limited cutaneous systemic sclerosis and diffuse cutaneous systemic sclerosis. 2. Indications are that associations between specific subsets of patients with systemic sclerosis and genetic markers will assume greater importance both diagnostically and prognostically. The group with lung fibrosis look prime candidates, for example. 3. Genetic markers are useful means of relating chemically induced systemic sclerosis like disorders with the classical disease. Vinyl chloride disease provides an example. 4. Evidence is emerging of strong associations between certain genetic markers and autoantibody production; a similar story has emerged in systemic lupus erythematosus. We believe that, eventually, genetic tests will be used to influence treatment in at least a subset of patients with systemic sclerosis but that a dramatic breakthrough will not be made until we know how the genetics of the disease relate to the primary biochemical disease characteristic--that is, the overproduction of collagen. In this respect it has been suggested that the 5' flanking DNA of dermal collagen genes is particularly susceptible to the action of Scl-70 (topoisomerase I). A problem is how to tie this and the other observations discussed above together. The association of autoantibodies with topoisomerase I provides a tentative link between the MHC and collagen gene expression. Although the role and reason for anti-Scl-70 in systemic sclerosis is unknown, humoral autoimmunity, at least in systemic lupus erythematosus, seems to be strongly dependent on specific HLA genes.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)
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