The role of the microbiome in rheumatic diseases

Curr Rheumatol Rep. 2013 Mar;15(3):314. doi: 10.1007/s11926-012-0314-y.


There is a growing understanding of the mechanisms by which the influence of the microbiota projects beyond sites of primary mucosal occupation to other human body systems. Bacteria present in the intestinal tract exert a profound effect on the host immune system, both locally and at distant sites. The oral cavity has its own characteristic microbiota, which concentrates in periodontal tissues and is in close association with a permeable epithelium. In this review we examine evidence which supports a role for the microbiome in the aetiology of rheumatic disease. We also discuss how changes in the composition of the microbiota, particularly within the gastrointestinal tract, may be affected by genetics, diet, and use of antimicrobial agents. Evidence is presented to support the theory that an altered microbiota is a factor in the initiation and perpetuation of inflammatory diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA), spondyloarthritis (SpA), and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Mechanisms through which the microbiota may be involved in the pathogenesis of these diseases include altered epithelial and mucosal permeability, loss of immune tolerance to components of the indigenous microbiota, and trafficking of both activated immune cells and antigenic material to the joints. The potential to manipulate the microbiome, by application of probiotics and faecal microbial transplant (FMT), is now being investigated. Both approaches are in their infancy with regard to management of rheumatic disease but their potential is worthy of consideration, given the need for novel therapeutic approaches, and the emerging recognition of the importance of microbial interactions with human hosts.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Diet
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / immunology
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance
  • Metagenome / drug effects
  • Metagenome / physiology*
  • Mouth / microbiology
  • Obesity
  • Probiotics / therapeutic use
  • Rheumatic Diseases / drug therapy
  • Rheumatic Diseases / genetics
  • Rheumatic Diseases / immunology
  • Rheumatic Diseases / microbiology*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents