Genetic and environmental risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis

Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol. 2017 Feb;31(1):3-18. doi: 10.1016/j.berh.2017.08.003. Epub 2017 Sep 18.


Multiple genetic and environmental factors have been associated with an increased risk for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Of these, the strongest associations have been seen with female sex, a family history of RA, the genetic factor the "shared epitope," and exposure to tobacco smoke. There is also renewed interest in mucosal inflammation and microbial factors as contributors to the development of RA. However, the identification of a "preclinical" period of RA that can be defined as local or systemic autoimmunity as measured by autoantibodies and other biomarkers prior to the development of clinically apparent synovitis suggests that the risk factors for RA are acting long prior to first clinical evidence of IA. As such, a major challenge to the field will be to investigate the full spectrum of the development of RA, from initiation and propagation of autoimmunity during preclinical RA and transition to clinically apparent synovitis and classifiable RA, to determine which genetic and environmental factors are important at each stage of disease development. Understanding the exact role and timing of action of risk factors for RA is especially important given the advent of prevention trials in RA, and the hope that a full understanding of genetic and environmental factors in RA could lead to effective preventive interventions.

Keywords: Microbiome; Mucosal inflammation; Preclinical rheumatoid arthritis; Rheumatoid arthritis environmental risk factors; Rheumatoid arthritis genetic risk factors; Rheumatoid arthritis prevention.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors