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. With an understanding of the function of MHC products at the molecular level, HLA and disease associations can now be analysed on a mechanistic level. For insulin dependent diabetes mellitus it has been shown that the MHC determined susceptibility to the disease is conferred by neutral residues (Val, Ser, Ala), at position 57 of the DQ beta chain, while Asp at this position correlates with resistance. A similar phenomenon has been described in rheumatoid arthritis. Although DR4 in general is associated with rheumatoid arthritis, it is heterogeneous, but a subtype of DR4 which is characterised by positively charged residues at positions 70 and 71 of the beta chains is not found in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (Wordsworth B P et al, unpublished data). A similar approach applied to the study of systemic sclerosis is likely to be similarly rewarding. The precise subtyping of the class II genes and the characterisation of their associated haplotypes is therefore required for a complete understanding of the contribution of the MHC to the disease. Additional genes linked to the MHC must not be overlooked, and are relevant to associations of haplotypes with the disease. Of particular interest are the recent reports of a new class of proteins, which are determined by genes in the MHC and which are considered to play a part in the assembly of the antigen peptide/MHC molecule complex.