Stromelysin is a member of the family of metalloproteinases that degrade extracellular matrix. In situ hybridisation and histopathological studies suggest that stromelysin activity may be important in the connective tissue remodelling processes associated with atherogenesis and plaque rupture. Single strand conformation polymorphism analysis identified a common polymorphism in the stromelysin gene promoter located 1171 bp upstream from the start of transcription in which one allele has a run of six adenosines (6A) and another has five adenosines (5A). 72 men with coronary heart disease, were genotyped. They were participants in the St Thomas' Atherosclerosis Regression Study who were randomised to receive usual care (UC), dietary intervention (D), or diet plus cholestyramine (DC), with angiography at baseline and at 39 months. In these patients the frequency of the 5A allele was 0.49 (95% CI from 0.41 to 0.57) and was not significantly different from that in a sample of 354 healthy UK men. In the UC group, patients who were homozygous for the 6A allele showed greater progression of angiographic disease than those with other genotypes: the minimum absolute width of coronary segments decreased by 0.04 (SEM 0.10) mm for 5A5A, 0.20 (0.07) mm for 5A6A, and 0.67 (0.19) mm for 6A6A (P < 0.01). The findings were similar but slightly less significant for the change in mean absolute width of coronary segments (P < 0.05). No significant associations were seen in patients in the D or DC groups. In data pooled from the three treatment groups, the 6A6A genotype was significantly associated with greater progression of coronary atherosclerosis than other genotypes in patients with baseline percentage diameter stenosis less than 20% (P < 0.05), but not in those with baseline percentage diameter stenosis greater than or equal to 20%. These results provide the first evidence of a link between genetic variation in stromelysin and progression of coronary atherosclerosis and support the hypothesis that connective tissue remodeling mediated by metalloproteinases contribute to the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis.