The aim of this study was to evaluate the presence and the role of the serum soluble costimulatory molecule CD28 in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), primary Sjögren's syndrome (SS), and systemic sclerosis (SSc). Soluble CD28 concentration was determined by ELISA in 45 patients with SLE, 45 patients with primary SS, 30 patients with SSc, and 45 healthy subjects. We also evaluated CD28 mRNA expression by semiquantitative RT-PCR, and the biological activity of recombinant soluble CD28 on T lymphocyte activity. Concentrations of soluble CD28 were significantly higher in patients with SLE, primary SS and SSc than in healthy subjects. Soluble CD28 concentrations were higher in patients with systemic primary SS than in patients with glandular-limited primary SS. PCR analysis suggested that soluble CD28 resulted from the shedding of the membrane form. In vitro assay revealed that soluble CD28 inhibits the anti-CD3 mAb induced T cell proliferation. Soluble CD28, which modulates the proliferation of T lymphocytes, could be associated with disease severity in patients with autoimmune disease, especially primary SS. These results suggest that soluble CD28 could play an important role in the regulation of autoimmune diseases.