Molecular mimicry: the geographical distribution of immune responses to Klebsiella in ankylosing spondylitis and its relevance to therapy

Clin Rheumatol. 1996 Jan:15 Suppl 1:57-61. doi: 10.1007/BF03342648.


The discovery that HLA-B27 is linked to ankylosing spondylitis (AS) and HLA-DR1/DR4 to rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has provided new approaches to the study of the possible causation of these diseases. Several theories have been proposed to explain these associations but only one, namely "molecular mimicry", has provided a specific aetiological agent for each of these diseases. Molecular mimicry between HLA-B27 and two molecules in Klebsiella microbes: nitrogenase and pullulanase D has been reported whilst in Proteus microbes, the haemolysin molecule shows sterochemical similarity to HLA-DR1/DR4. Elevated immune responses to Klebsiella microbes have been demonstrated in AS patients from 10 different countries and this wide geographical distribution suggests that the same aetiological agent is probably acting in producing this condition. Furthermore RA patients show similar immune responses to Proteus microbes. Whether AS or RA are caused by these bacteria can only be resolved by tissue typing all rheumatological patients early, in the course of their disease and then assessing their response to antibiotic chemotherapy in longitudinal studies involving double-blind crossover trials. It is possible that in the future, the course of AS or even RA could be modified by adequate antibiotic chemotherapy or even diets which affect the substrates on which these bacteria grow.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Bacterial / immunology*
  • Canada
  • Europe
  • HLA-B27 Antigen / immunology*
  • HLA-DR1 Antigen / immunology
  • HLA-DR4 Antigen / immunology
  • Humans
  • Japan
  • Klebsiella / immunology*
  • Molecular Mimicry / immunology*
  • Spondylitis, Ankylosing* / immunology
  • Spondylitis, Ankylosing* / therapy
  • United States


  • Antibodies, Bacterial
  • HLA-B27 Antigen
  • HLA-DR1 Antigen
  • HLA-DR4 Antigen