Although the aetiology of the spondylarthritic diseases, ankylosing spondylitis and Reiter's syndrome, is obscure, a clue to the pathogenesis might be an animal model, adjuvant arthritis. Rats with this disease develop a spectrum of pathology with marked similarity to the spondylarthritides. Since peptidoglycan, a major cell wall component of most bacteria is causally implicated in adjuvant arthritis, we sought evidence that peptidoglycan exposure accompanies both Reiter's syndrome and ankylosing spondylitis. Antibodies to the D-Ala-D-Ala moiety of peptidoglycan were measured by a sensitive and specific ELISA. Antibodies were elevated significantly in patients with ankylosing spondylitis or Reiter's syndrome, but not in patients with rheumatoid arthritis or degenerative joint disease in comparison with normal controls. The findings should be considered preliminary, since only a minority of patients had increased antibody titres. However, the findings are compatible with the hypothesis that peptidoglycan is causally related to spondylarthritis. Antibodies to other moieties in the peptidoglycan molecule might be a more sensitive test for significant exposure.
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