Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) effects women 3 times more often than men. RA is also more difficult to treat in women compared to men, and women are less likely to achieve disease remission. Despite this, the exact cause of these sex differences in RA remains unknown. Our research team has taken a novel approach to better understand why women are more effected by RA than men.
The Mucosal Origins Hypothesis outlines how inflammation in RA begins at a mucosal site. In addition to studying the lung, our research team studies how the female genital tract could contribute to sex differences in RA. The female genital tract is an immunologically active mucosal site that women have and men do not. If inflammation and autoimmunity develop at this mucosal site that only women have, it could help to explain some of the sex differences between women and men in RA.
Our team’s work in this area has made several novel findings. We found that a portion of women with RA and women at increased risk of developing RA produce RA-associated autoantibodies at the female genital tract mucosa in association with inflammation. Our ongoing work in this area is studying whether this mucosal antibody generation in women changes over time and whether there is an association with development of systemic RA-associated autoantibodies and development of RA.
Our ongoing work in this area is also exploring whether female-specific exposures, such as contraceptive methods and pregnancy, could influence the generation of RA-associated autoantibodies or have effects on neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs).