HLA Alleles Associated With Risk of Ankylosing Spondylitis and Rheumatoid Arthritis Influence the Gut Microbiome

Arthritis Rheumatol. 2019 Oct;71(10):1642-1650. doi: 10.1002/art.40917. Epub 2019 Aug 12.


Objective: HLA alleles affect susceptibility to more than 100 diseases, but the mechanisms that account for these genotype-disease associations are largely unknown. HLA alleles strongly influence predisposition to ankylosing spondylitis (AS) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Both AS and RA patients have discrete intestinal and fecal microbiome signatures. Whether these changes are the cause or consequence of the diseases themselves is unclear. To distinguish these possibilities, we examined the effect of HLA-B27 and HLA-DRB1 RA risk alleles on the composition of the intestinal microbiome in healthy individuals.

Methods: Five hundred sixty-eight stool and biopsy samples from 6 intestinal sites were collected from 107 healthy unrelated subjects, and stool samples were collected from 696 twin pairs from the TwinsUK cohort. Microbiome profiling was performed using sequencing of the 16S ribosomal RNA bacterial marker gene. All subjects were genotyped using the Illumina CoreExome SNP microarray, and HLA genotypes were imputed from these data.

Results: Associations were observed between the overall microbial composition and both the HLA-B27 genotype and the HLA-DRB1 RA risk allele (P = 0.0002 and P = 0.00001, respectively). These associations were replicated using the stool samples from the TwinsUK cohort (P = 0.023 and P = 0.033, respectively).

Conclusion: This study shows that the changes in intestinal microbiome composition seen in AS and RA are at least partially due to effects of HLA-B27 and HLA-DRB1 on the gut microbiome. These findings support the hypothesis that HLA alleles operate to cause or increase the risk of these diseases through interaction with the intestinal microbiome and suggest that therapies targeting the microbiome may be effective in preventing or treating these diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alleles
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / genetics*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / microbiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / genetics*
  • HLA-B27 Antigen / genetics*
  • HLA-DRB1 Chains / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Least-Squares Analysis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Spondylitis, Ankylosing / genetics*
  • Spondylitis, Ankylosing / microbiology


  • HLA-B27 Antigen
  • HLA-DRB1 Chains
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S