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Intestinal Bacteria & Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Last November, Scientists at the New York University School of Medicine discovered a potential link between the activity of certain intestinal bacteria and the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. The lab scientists and clinical researchers there linked a species of intestinal bacteria known as Prevotella copri (P. copri) to the autoimmune disease, using sophisticated DNA analysis.

Beneficial bacteria such as P. copri are responsible for fermenting undigested carbohydrates to fuel the body and keep harmful bacteria in check. In healthy bodies, the immune system has the ability to distinguish between benign and pathogenic bacteria, but this ability may be compromised when the gut’s microbial ecosystem is disturbed.

Tracing the link

To determine if particular bacterial species correlate with rheumatoid arthritis, the researchers analysed faecal DNA samples from more than 100 patients with different disease profiles.

Results published in the open access journal eLife reveal that 75 per cent of stool samples from patients newly diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis carried P. copri, compared to 21.4 per cent of samples from healthy individuals and 11.5 per cent in patients who had received immunosuppressive treatment for their condition.

Dr Dan Littman of the NYU School of Medicine said: “At this stage, however, we cannot conclude that there is a causal link between the abundance of P. copri and the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. We are developing new tools that will hopefully allow us to ask if this is indeed the case.” The team now wishes to assess whether gut flora can be used as a biological marker to guide treatment for this form of arthritis.

Looking ahead

While further studies will need to be conducted to assess why an expansion of P. copri in the intestinal microbiota seems to be associated with the inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis, it also opens the possibility of new therapies to prevent or treat rheumatoid arthritis.

Perhaps, as Littman says, P. copri could be attacked with antibiotics or crowded out with probiotic pills full of good bacteria. Either way, patients and Rheumatologists may someday be able to relieve joint pain by focusing on their gut.

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This web site is run by an Arthritis Specialist based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. On this site you will find news about the latest in arthritis, information about research results in the field, tips and information and diet and exercise, and much more.

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