Although the cause (or causes) of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, many workers have suggested that microorganisms play a part. The intestinal flora in particular has been related to the development of joint inflammation. It has been shown previously that cell wall fragments of several anaerobic Gram positive intestinal bacteria of human origin are arthritogenic after a single intraperitoneal injection in Lewis rats. The part played by indigenous microflora in this model has now been studied by decontaminating Lewis rats before the injection of Eubacterium aerofaciens cell wall fragments. The pattern and severity of arthritis appeared to be comparable in decontaminated and control rats. The second goal of this work was to isolate arthritogenic bacteria from the autochthonous intestinal flora of rats. Only a limited number of bacteria showing a resemblance to arthritogenic strains from human intestinal flora (i.e. E aerofaciens and Bifidobacterium adolescentis) could be isolated. These strains did not induce chronic arthritis after intraperitoneal injection. This may explain why spontaneous arthritis did not develop in Lewis rats.
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