Do bacteria in our gut influence arthritis?

21 September 2021

The trillions of bacteria which live in our gut, mouth and elsewhere on our bodies are collectively known as the microbiome.

It’s known that the microbiome helps to regulate inflammation and disease, and it has long been suggested that they may affect our immune system and contribute to diseases, including inflammatory arthritis.

What research is Versus Arthritis funding in this area?

To improve understanding, we have funded several research projects focused on the link between the microbiome and musculoskeletal conditions. This research explores the role of the microbiome in inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis.

Studying the bacteria and other microbes that share our body space could help us to understand why these conditions happen and even lead to new treatments.

Which bacteria are involved?

Researchers we’re funding at the University of Oxford are exploring which specific gut bacteria are linked to inflammatory arthritis.

This research can help us to understand how bacteria can change the behaviour of immune cells and contribute to the inflammation seen in arthritis.

The researchers are also examining which gut bacteria are present in people with inflammatory arthritis who are being treated with different drugs. This may reveal certain bacteria (or their products) which can predict how well people will respond to treatments.

Read more about the research into gut bacteria and inflammatory arthritis.

Can bacteria help us to predict rheumatoid arthritis?

Research we’re funding at the University of Leeds is exploring the different bacteria in the gut involved in rheumatoid arthritis, by collecting faecal sample from people who are known to be at risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

The researchers will track the changes that occur in the gut bacteria over time as some people develop rheumatoid arthritis.

Identifying the bacteria in the gut which are linked to development of rheumatoid arthritis, could lead to new ways to predict and treat rheumatoid arthritis.

How do genetics play a role?

We’ve funded Professor Frances Williams to explore just this.

Her work has revealed more about the link between the microbiome, genetic factors and the development of rheumatoid arthritis.

In work published in Lancet Rheumatology, Professor Williams has identified specific bacteria that are common in people who carry genetic risk for rheumatoid arthritis.

These bacteria could help us to identify people who are likely to develop the condition. It may even be possible to target treatment towards these bacteria in the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis.

Is a microbiome transplant the answer?

Axial spondyloarthritis is a form of arthritis which affects primarily the spine and the joints that connect the bottom of the spine to the pelvis.

Research has shown that people who carry certain genes are more likely to develop axial spondyloarthritis. These genes also cause changes to the bacteria found in the gut, which can stimulate the immune system abnormally, resulting in inflammation in the joints.

This raises the question: can we replace the bacteria and prevent inflammation?

There is a type of treatment called faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), which allows bacteria to be replaced. It has been shown to be effective in treating inflammatory bowel disease, which is also partly due to an imbalance in the gut bacteria.

We’re funding research to explore if FMT can be used to treat axial spondyloarthritis.

Professor Matthew Brown, lead researcher on the project said “FMT is a low cost, safe method which has a good chance of being effective for axial spondyloarthritis. I’m delighted that with Versus Arthritis’s support, we’ll be able to run the world’s first clinical trial of the approach in this disease, which if successful could benefit millions of people around the world.”

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