P-selectin is an adhesion molecule, expressed at the surface of activated cells, that mediates the interaction of activated endothelial cells or platelets with leukocytes. P-selectin expression is increased in atherosclerotic plaques, and high plasma levels of this molecule have been observed in patients with unstable angina. We investigated the P-selectin gene as a possible candidate for myocardial infarction (MI). The P-selectin gene is situated on chromosome 1q21-q24, spans >50 kb and contains 17 exons. The sequences of the 5'-flanking region and exons of 40 alleles from patients with MI were screened for polymorphisms using polymerase chain reaction/single-strand conformation polymorphism (PCR-SSCP) and sequencing. Thirteen polymorphisms were identified: five in the 5'-flanking and eight in the exonic sequences. Four polymorphisms (Ser290Asn, Asn562Asp, Leu599Val and Thr715Pro) predicted a change in the amino acid sequence of the P-selectin protein. All P-selectin polymorphisms as well as a common E-selectin polymorphism, Ser128Arg which has been reported as being associated with an increased risk of premature coronary heart disease (CHD), and is in tight linkage disequilibrium with several P-selectin polymorphisms, were investigated in 647 patients with MI and 758 control subjects from four regions of France and Northern Ireland (the ECTIM study). The entire set of P-selectin polymorphisms provided a heterozygosity of 91%. The polymorphisms were tightly associated with one another and displayed patterns of linkage disequilibrium suggesting the existence of highly conserved ancestral haplotypes. The five polymorphisms in the 5'-flanking region of the gene were unrelated to MI or any relevant phenotype measured in the ECTIM study. We inferred that the four missense variants identified in the coding region predicted eight common forms of the P-selectin protein. The Pro715 allele which characterizes one of these forms was less frequent in France than in Northern Ireland ( P < 0.002) and in cases than in controls ( P < 0.002; P < 0.02 after correction for the number of tests). We conclude that the P-selectin gene is highly polymorphic and hypothesize that the Pro715 variant may be protective for MI. Whether this variant affects the properties of the P-selectin protein in a way which is compatible with this hypothesis needs to be checked experimentally.