Fetal-maternal HLA compatibility confers susceptibility to systemic sclerosis
Carol Artlett, Thomas Jefferson University; Ken I. Welsh, Churchill Hospital, UK; Carol M. Black, Churchill Hospital, UK; and Sergio A. Jimenez, Thomas Jefferson University

DATE: November 1997
SOURCE: Immunogenetics, 47(1):17-22
RELATED URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s002510050321

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Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a disease of unknown origin, which occurs predominantly in women after childbearing years. There are prominent clinical and histopathologic similarities between SSc and chronic graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). GVHD can occur after blood transfusions or after transplantation with HLA-compatible bone marrow. Here we examined the hypothesis that SSc may be caused by fetal cells crossing the placenta into the maternal circulation and providing donor lymphocytes which recognize disparate HLA antigens, resulting in a reaction similar to chronic GVHD. To test the hypothesis we analyzed the inheritance of HLA class I and class II haplotypes in the families of 37 SSc patients and 42 control individuals. Twenty-six (70.2%) SSc patients had HLA class II alleles compatible either for their offspring or mother, compared with only nine (21%) control individuals. The four patients with juvenile onset SSc we analyzed had alleles compatible with their mothers. These results suggest that in some patients, SSc may, indeed, be a form of chronic GVHD caused by fetal or maternal cells which have crossed the placenta during pregnancy and have remained unrecognized by the host due to class II HLA compatibility, and that subsequent activation of these cells by as yet unknown stimuli result in the development of the disease.