The bacteria that cause chronic gum infections may also trigger the autoimmune inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis (RA), new evidence suggests.
The new findings could have important implications for prevention and treatment of RA, the researchers say.
In the journal Science Translational Medicine, the investigators identify the common denominator in gum disease and in many people with RA as Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans. Infection with the bacteria appears to cause overproduction of citrullinated proteins, suspected of activating the immune system and driving the cascade of events leading to RA.
“This is like putting together the last few pieces of a complicated jigsaw puzzle that has been worked on for many years,” says Felipe Andrade, senior investigator and associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
“This research may be the closest we’ve come to uncovering the root cause of RA,” adds lead author Maximilian Konig, a former Johns Hopkins scientist now at Massachusetts General Hospital.