Two new studies point to a link between the gut microbiome and rheumatoid arthritis—an autoimmune disorder characterized by widespread inflammation and joint pain. The combined results may be able to help doctors detect and treat the condition in the future.
Both studies were published by Dr. Veena Taneja, an immunologist with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. In the first, Dr. Taneja looked the gut bacteria of patients with rheumatoid arthritis to see if a specific trait could be identified in their family history that would indicate whether or not certain individuals were more susceptible than others.
As it turns out, the rheumatoid arthritis patients had lower gut diversity overall, along with greater numbers of specific bacteria rarely seen in healthy individuals—a distinction which may help experts predict who will develop the disorder. “For the first time, we could show a direct link between the arthritis-associated bacteria we identified and enhancement of arthritis,” said Dr. Taneja in a recent interview.
The second study involved the use of mice, whose immune systems tend to be similar to those of humans. When a group of “arthritis-susceptible” mice was treated with a beneficial bacterium known as Prevotella histicola, arthritis symptoms—including inflammation—were notably reduced and less severe.
“These are exciting discoveries that we may be able to use to personalize treatment for patients,” Dr. Taneja added. She believes focusing on a healthy microbial balance in the gut may hold the key to early detection and possibly even prevention of rheumatoid arthritis.