Combined research efforts from the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn, and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, spotlights a new role that bacteria may have in regulating the immune system and related autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The study’s results indicate that larger than normal populations of specific gut bacteria may play a role in triggering diseases, such as RA, and may also accelerate disease progression in individuals genetically predisposed to the condition.

Veena Taneja, PhD, Mayo Clinic immunologist, explains that researchers were able to investigate the role gut flora played in RA by, “Using genomic sequencing technologies,” and have in effect, “been able to show the gut microbiome may be used as a biomarker for predisposition.” 

Researchers also report that they discovered that hormones and changes linked to the aging process might further modulate the gut immune system and aggravate inflammatory conditions in genetically susceptible individuals. Additional diseases potentially tied to gut bacteria include type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis (MS), researchers add. The research could potentially help clinicians identify new biomarkers in intestinal microbial populations and maintain a balance in gut bacteria in order to prevent RA, according to Mayo Illinois Alliance for Technology Based Healthcare researchers say.

A recent news release notes that the study encompassed genetically engineered mice with the human gene HLA-DB1*401. One set of control mice were engineered with a different variant of the DRB1 gene, using the mice to compare their immune responses to different bacteria and the effect of this bacteria on RA.

Bryan White, PhD, director of the University of Illinois’ Microbiome Program in the division of biomedical sciences, member of the Institute for Genomic Biology, highlights the ongoing battle the gut has against bacteria, “Because it’s presented with multiple insults daily through the introduction of new bacteria, food sources, and foreign antigens, the gut is continually teasing out what’s good and what’s bad.”

Taneja says the next step for researchers is to determine if the bacteria can be manipulated to change the course of the disease.

Source: Mayo Clinic