BOSTON (AP) - A study in mice raises the possibility that carbohydrates in human tissue may be a target of the misguided immune system attack that results in rheumatoid arthritis.
The case, however, is still far from proven, and much more research will be necessary to show how these essential components of cells might be involved in this crippling autoimmune disease, which affects about 2.1 million Americans.
The research, conducted by Dr. Julia Wang and colleagues from Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, was presented Wednesday at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.
Experts have long known that rheumatoid arthritis results when the body's own disease-fighting cells attack the cartilage and joints. The new work suggests that the specific target of this onslaught is essential carbohydrates in the tissue.
"This is potentially of enormous importance," said Dr. John H. Klippel, medical director of the Arthritis Foundation.
If the theory proves true, it could eventually lead to new medicines for protecting the joints from this destruction.
The researchers believe the target of the disease is carbohydrates called glycosaminoglycans, which are naturally present in joint cartilage and fluid, among other places.
In the experiment, the researchers injected glycosaminoglycans into mice and found that it triggered arthritis symptoms, including swelling, inflammation and joint damage.
"This study shows that rheumatoid arthritis may result from the body's mishandling of its own carbohydrates that, under normal circumstances, would not be interpreted as a threat," Wang said.
On the Net: