Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Risk Boosted by Gene Regulators

Doctor checking finger joints for rheumatoid arthritisAccording to a new clinical study, a form of DNA that has long been regarded as “junk” could actually influence a person’s risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. This study has offered new insight into the complex system of switches responsible for turning disease genes on.

Medical researchers studied genetic information that was obtained from more than 300 participants that had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and another 300 participants that did not have RA. They discovered 10 areas that seemed to influence the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. The results of this intriguing rheumatoid arthritis clinical trial were published in the latest edition of Nature Biotechnology.

Regulatory Genes and Disease Risk

This latest finding has expanded upon a growing body of evidence which shows that genes (a small portion of DNA that accounts for 1 percent of the genome) aren’t the only aspects of the human system which play a role in disease risk. Back in September, another group of scientists plotted a map of the regulatory genes, and they theorized that these may be crucial for complex diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: An Inflammatory Autoimmune Disease

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means that the patient’s immune system has begun to attack its own healthy tissues, causing chronic swelling, inflammation, and damage to the joints. This disease can be quite debilitating, making even the most basic of everyday activities much more difficult. According to the most recent estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 1.5 million adults suffer from this disease in the United States, and women have a higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis than men.

Alterations in the “junk” DNA regulatory system could help to explain why some environmental factors can have an impact on inherited genes. One way that this is possible is via the ability to add or subtract pieces of DNA molecules, a process known as methylation. This particular process allows the body to ensure that the correct genes are active at the appropriate times.

Alterations in the Regulatory System

During the clinical study, researchers identified changes in the regulatory system that were associated with rheumatoid arthritis. More importantly, they noticed that some of these alterations impacted disease risk. With the help of some mathematical modeling, the research team found that a few of these changes only took place if that person possessed particular gene variants. The lead investigators have stated that this finding suggests that the regulatory system does indeed play an important role.

Out of the 10 areas the researchers identified, 9 of them could be linked to the region that played a role in diseases which cause the body to begin to attacking itself. The remaining area was associated with a region that had never been linked with the disease before. For accuracy, the researchers double-checked these findings with another group of 24 participants (12 with RA and 12 controls).

Know Your Treatment Options for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Currently, most cases of rheumatoid arthritis are treated with anti-inflammatory drugs, and immune suppressors. Drugs like Humira are capable of modifying the patient’s immune system reaction, thus directly attacking the source of the RA symptoms. Humira is just one of the treatments available for rheumatoid arthritis, but you will want to discuss your options with a rheumatologist.