Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune inflammatory disorder that primarily affects the joints. One hypothesis for the pathogenesis of RA is that disease begins at mucosal sites as a consequence of interactions between the mucosal immune system and an aberrant local microbiota, and then transitions to involve the synovial joints. Alterations in the composition of the microbial flora in the lungs, mouth and gut in individuals with preclinical and established RA suggest a role for mucosal dysbiosis in the development and perpetuation of RA, although establishing whether these alterations are the specific consequence of intestinal involvement in the setting of a systemic inflammatory process, or whether they represent a specific localization of disease, is an ongoing challenge. Data from mouse models of RA and investigations into the preclinical stages of disease also support the hypothesis that these alterations to the microbiota predate the onset of disease. In addition, several therapeutic options widely used for the treatment of RA are associated with alterations in intestinal microbiota, suggesting that modulation of intestinal microbiota and/or intestinal barrier function might be useful in preventing or treating RA.
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