Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a severe, chronic autoimmune disease that affects 1% of the world’s population. Familial risk contributes 50% of the risk of seropositive RA, with strongest risks seen in first-degree relatives. Smoking increases the risk of developing anti-citrullinated peptide antibody (ACPA) RA, particularly in individuals with high-risk RA-susceptibility alleles. Other contributory environmental risks including particulate exposure, periodontal disease, bronchiectasis, diet, obesity and the oral contraceptive impact respiratory, oral, intestinal and genital tract mucosal sites. Furthermore, the first signs of autoimmunity may appear at mucosal sites e.g. sputum ACPA-IgA and IgG. While oral and faecal dysbiosis are well described, there is no consistent single bacterial species that appears to drive RA. Animal and human data suggest a model in which multiple environmental influences impact mucosal immune function through the host genetics through enhanced mucosal permeability and the traffic of pro-inflammatory PAMPs and the amplification of autoimmune responses. In some cases, autoimmunity may be driven by cross-reactivity, or mimicry, to pathogen-specific antigens, particularly where the host immune system fails to support their rapid control and elimination.
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