Systemic sclerosis (SSc) or scleroderma is a rare, autoimmune, multi-factorial disease characterized by early microvascular alterations, inflammation, and fibrosis. Chickens from the UCD-200 line develop a hereditary SSc-like disease, showing all the hallmarks of the human disorder, which makes this line a promising model to study genetic factors underlying the disease. A backcross was generated between UCD-200 chickens and its wild ancestor - the red jungle fowl and a genome-scan was performed to identify loci affecting early (21 days of age) and late (175 days of age) ischemic lesions of the comb. A significant difference in frequency of disease was observed between sexes in the BC population, where the homogametic males were more affected than females, and there was evidence for a protective W chromosome effect. Three suggestive disease predisposing loci were mapped to chromosomes 2, 12 and 14. Three orthologues of genes implicated in human SSc are located in the QTL region on chromosome 2, TGFRB1, EXOC2-IRF4 and COL1A2, as well as CCR8, which is more generally related to immune function. IGFBP3 is also located within the QTL on chromosome 2 and earlier studies have showed increased IGFBP3 serum levels in SSc patients. To our knowledge, this study is the first to reveal a potential genetic association between IGFBP3 and SSc. Another gene with an immunological function, SOCS1, is located in the QTL region on chromosome 14. These results illustrate the usefulness of the UCD-200 chicken as a model of human SSc and motivate further in-depth functional studies of the implicated candidate genes.
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