Gut bacteria can cause, predict and prevent rheumatoid arthritis

The bacteria in your gut do more than break down your food. They also can predict susceptibility to rheumatoid arthritis, suggests Veena Taneja, Ph.D., an immunologist at Mayo Clinic's Center for Individualized Medicine. Dr. Taneja recently published two studies – one in Genome Medicine and one in Arthritis and Rheumatology – connecting the dots between gut microbiota and rheumatoid arthritis.

More than 1.5 million Americans have rheumatoid arthritis, a disorder that causes painful swelling in the joints. Scientists have a limited understanding of the processes that trigger the disease. Dr. Taneja and her team identified intestinal bacteria as a possible cause; their studies indicate that testing for specific microbiota in the gut can help physicians predict and prevent the onset of rheumatoid arthritis.

"These are exciting discoveries that we may be able to use to personalize treatment for patients," Dr. Taneja says.

The paper published in Genome Medicine summarizes a study of rheumatoid arthritis patients, their relatives and a healthy control group. The study aimed to find a biomarker – or a substance that indicates a disease, condition or phenomena – that predicts susceptibility to rheumatoid arthritis. They noted that an abundance of certain rare bacterial lineages causes a microbial imbalance that is found in rheumatoid arthritis patients.

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