BOSTON Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) and Harvard Medical School (HMS) have shown that certain types of naturally occurring carbohydrates in the body may cause rheumatoid arthritis, a debilitating, painful disease affecting hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
Although there have been promising advances in treating the symptoms of arthritis, the exact causes of arthritic inflammation, swelling, and destruction of the joints has remained elusive. Now, researchers at BWH have for the first time associated carbohydrates present naturally in the body with this disease.
Dr. Julia Ying Wang, the lead BWH researcher in the study, and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at HMS, has extensively examined the role of carbohydrates in diseases and infections. She will present her recent findings on arthritis at the American Chemical Society's national meeting, to be held from August 18th through August 22nd, at the Hynes Convention Center and surrounding hotels.
Wang began wondering whether a particular class of carbohydrates, known as glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), triggered an immune response in the body. GAGs are naturally present as a major component of joint cartilage, joint fluid, connective tissue, and skin. In collaboration with Michael H. Roehrl, M.D., from HMS, Wang studied the effects GAGs had on mice, who subsequently experienced arthritic 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," said Wang. "We found that inflammatory cells that accumulate in arthritic joints attach themselves directly to the glycosaminoglycans. This accumulation of cells leads