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Summary

Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a connective tissue disease of unknown aetiology characterized by fibrosis of the skin and internal organs, vascular abnormalities and humoral autoimmunity. Strong T-cell-dependent autoantibody and HLA associations are found in SSc subsets. The co-stimulatory molecule, CD86, expressed by antigen-presenting cells, plays a crucial role in priming naïve lymphocytes. We hypothesized that SSc, or one of the disease subsets, could be associated with single-nucleotide polymorphisms of the CD86 gene. Using sequence specific primer-polymerase chain reaction (SSP-PCR) methodology, we assessed four CD86 polymorphisms in 221 patients with SSc and 227 healthy control subjects from the UK. Haplotypes were constructed by inference and confirmed using PHASE algorithm. We found a strong association between SSc and a specific haplotype (haplotype 5), which was more prevalent in patients than in controls (29% vs 15%, OR = 2.3, χ2 = 12, P = 0.0005). This association could be attributed to the novel −3479 promoter polymorphism; a significant difference was observed in the distribution of the CD86 −3479 G allele in patients with SSc compared to controls (43.7% vs. 32.4%, OR = 1.7, χ2 = 12.1, P = 0.0005). TRANSFAC analyses suggest that the CD86-3479T allele contains putative GATA and TBP sites, whereas G allele does not. We assessed the relative DNA protein-binding activity of the −3479 polymorphism in vitro using electromobility gel shift assays (EMSA), which showed that the −3479G allele has less binding affinity compared to the T allele for nuclear proteins. These findings highlight the importance of co-stimulatory pathways in SSc pathogenesis.