Microbes, helminths, and rheumatic diseases

Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol. 2020 Aug;34(4):101528. doi: 10.1016/j.berh.2020.101528. Epub 2020 May 7.


There has been a progressive interest on modifications of the human defense system following insults occurring in the interface between our body and the external environment, as they may provoke or worsen disease states. Studies suggest that billions of germs, which compose the gut microbiota influence one's innate and adaptive immune responses at the intestinal level, but these microorganisms may also impact rheumatic diseases. The microbiota of the skin, respiratory, and urinary tracts may also be relevant in rheumatology. Evidence indicates that changes in the gut microbiome alter the pathogenesis of immune-mediated diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis but also of other disorders like atherosclerosis and osteoarthritis. Therapeutic strategies to modify the microbiota, including probiotics and fecal microbiota transplantation, have been received with skepticism, which, in turn, has drawn attention back to previously developed interventions such as antibiotics. Helminths adapted to humans over the evolution process, but their role in disease modulation, particularly immune-mediated diseases, remains to be understood. The present review focuses on data concerning modifications of the immune system induced by interactions with microbes and pluricellular organisms, namely helminths, and their impact on rheumatic diseases. Practical aspects, including specific microbiota-targeted therapies, are also discussed.

Keywords: Adaptive immunity; Innate immunity; Microbiome; Osteoarthritis; Rheumatic diseases; Rheumatoid arthritis; Spondyloarthritis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome* / immunology
  • Helminthiasis
  • Humans
  • Microbiota
  • Probiotics* / therapeutic use
  • Rheumatic Diseases* / microbiology
  • Rheumatic Diseases* / therapy