Dysregulation of apoptosis, particularly in the Fas/Fas ligand (FasL) pathway, is considered to be involved in the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Recently, a soluble decoy receptor, termed decoy receptor 3 (DcR3), that binds FasL and inhibits FasL-induced apoptosis, has been identified. Silicosis is clinically characterized not only by respiratory disorders but by immunological abnormalities. We have found that serum soluble Fas (sFas) levels are elevated in silicosis patients and that sFas message is dominantly expressed in PBMC derived from these patients. This study examined DcR3 gene expression in PBMC derived from patients with silicosis, SLE, or progressive systemic sclerosis (PSS), and compared it with that in healthy volunteers (HV). The relative expression level of the DcR3 gene was examined in PBMC derived from 37 patients with silicosis without clinical symptoms of autoimmune disease, nine patients with SLE, 12 patients with PSS, and 28 HV using the semiquantitative multiplex-reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (MP-RT-PCR). The correlation between the relative expression level of the DcR3 gene and multiple clinical parameters for respiratory disorders and immunological abnormalities in individuals with silicosis was analysed. The DcR3 gene was significantly over-expressed in cases of silicosis or SLE when compared with HV. In addition, the DcR3 relative expression level was positively correlated with the serum sFas level in silicosis patients. It is unclear, however, whether over-expression of the DcR3 gene in silicosis is caused by chronic silica exposure, merely accompanies the alteration in Fas-related molecules, or precedes the clinical onset of autoimmune abnormalities. It will be necessary to study these patients further, establish an in vitro model of human T cells exposed recurrently to silica compounds, and resolve whether the increase in DcR3 mRNA expression is a cause or consequence of disease.