The role of gut inflammation in the pathogenesis of spondyloarthropathies

Acta Clin Belg. 1996;51(5):340-9. doi: 10.1080/22953337.1996.11718528.


The concept of spondyloarthropathy (SpA) gathers together a group of chronic diseases with common clinical, biological, genetic and therapeutic characteristics. The concept forms a distinct entity, different from other rheumatic diseases. The target organs are not only the joint, but also the axial skeleton, the enthesis, the eye, the gut, urogenital tract, the skin and sometimes the heart. The prevalence of this entity in the general population is estimated 1%, equal to the prevalence of rheumatoid arthritis. Genetical predisposition (HLA-B27) is one of the clues to the pathogenesis of the disease. Since reactive arthritis is induced by specific urogenital or enterogenic bacteriae, and since the gut is implicated in different forms of spondyloarthropathies, especially in IBD, it was clear that the gut could play an important role by permitting exogenous factors to enter the body. This hypothesis was the rationale for investigating the gut in the spondyloarthropathies by performing ileocolonoscopies. In the first ileocolonoscopic studies of SpA patients, histological signs of gut inflammation were found in a relatively great number of patients, mostly without any clinical intestinal manifestations. These lesions were not seen in other inflammatory joint diseases. Further ileocolonoscopic studies confirmed the strong relationship between gut and joint inflammation. In patients in whom a second ileocolonoscopy was performed, remission of the joint inflammation was always connected with a disappearance of the gut inflammation, whereas persistence of locomotor inflammation was mostly associated to the persistence of gut inflammation. The hypothesis was proposed that some patients with a spondyloarthropathy had a form of subclinical Crohn's disease in which the locomotor inflammation was the only clinical expression. This hypothesis was confirmed in prospective long-term studies in which the ileocolonoscoped patients were reviewed 2 to 9 years later: about 6% of SpA patients not presenting any sign of Crohn's disease at first investigation but demonstrating gut inflammation on biopsy, developed full-blown Crohn's disease. The discovery of subclinical gut inflammation in the SpA had therapeutic consequences. Sulphasalazine (SASP) has been proven to be an active drug in the treatment of IBD. Since the gut could play a crucial role in SpA, it was logic to use this drug in the treatment of this disease. Multiple open and double-blind studies have proven the effectiveness of this drug in SpA; recent studies concluded that the beneficial effect of the drug in this disease entity is more prominent on the peripheral arthritis than on the axial disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Arthritis, Reactive / etiology
  • Cell Membrane Permeability
  • Colonoscopy
  • HLA-B27 Antigen
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulins / biosynthesis
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / complications*
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / diagnosis
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / drug therapy
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / physiopathology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / physiopathology
  • Spondylitis / diagnosis
  • Spondylitis / etiology*
  • Spondylitis / physiopathology
  • Sulfasalazine / therapeutic use


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • HLA-B27 Antigen
  • Immunoglobulins
  • Sulfasalazine