intestines with various bacteria

The Relationship Between The Microbiome And Ankylosing Spondylitis

About 40 years ago, researchers found out that people with HLA-B27 are much more likely to get ankylosing spondylitis (AS). HLA-B27 is a genetic trait associated with the immune system and inflammatory conditions like AS. Scientists still do not know why there is a connection with AS and HLA-B27. They continue to study the potential link to help find treatments for the condition. One of the areas being researched is the microbiome.1

What is the microbiome?

All of us have trillions of bacteria living on and in our bodies. This collection of bacteria is called a microbiome. Most of the time the microbiome is helpful to us. It can help create nutrients that we need to be healthy. Studies have shown that the microbiome is important to our immune system and overall health.1

How the microbiome can affect AS

The immune system is where the microbiome, AS and HLA-B27 come together. Scientists have discovered that AS is caused by the immune system. At the same time, the microbiome has an effect on our immune system. HLA-B27 also plays an important role in the immune system. Because of this, it is very likely that there is a link between AS and the microbiome.1

For example, rodents who were raised in a sterile environment never grew the helpful bacterial in their intestines. Because of this, their immune systems did not develop. Rats that were HLA-B27 positive were less likely to have arthritis. If these same rats were given antibiotics, they developed reduced arthritis. Those rats were able to stay in remission by eating a specific strain of lactobacillus, a type of bacteria our bodies find “friendly.” Lactobacilli can be found in foods like yogurt.1

Challenges in microbiome research

Of course, eating yogurt is not enough to cure ankylosing spondylitis. There is still more we need to learn about which bacteria can change the microbiome in the right way. Unfortunately, there are many things that limit our study of the microbiome.

It is very difficult to grow cultures of the bacteria in the microbiome. The ones we can grow provide a great deal of information. However, that information is still not enough to get the full picture. Different bacteria can have different effects, even if they seem similar. This makes it hard to get a complete understanding of the relationship between AS and the microbiome.1

The future of microbiome and AS study

Discovering the connections between how the gene HLA-B27 affects the microbiome and how the microbiome affects the immune system when it comes to AS is the next step.1

While animal studies are helpful, these can not fully show how a human would respond. Studies of humans also have limits because it is hard to determine exactly when AS begins. One option may be to study ways to use diet or a probiotic to prevent eye inflammation in people with AS.1

Scientists believe that the microbiome can potentially be used to treat AS and other inflammatory diseases. However, in many ways, the microbiome is still a mystery. There is still a great deal of research needed to uncover exactly how the microbiome can help people fight AS.1

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