New research has found a novel cell that can act as a warning sign of a rheumatoid arthritis flare-up.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of autoimmune condition. In autoimmune conditions, a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells. This causes inflammation.
In rheumatoid arthritis, this inflammation typically affects a person’s joints — particularly the wrists, hands, and knees. As well as painful swelling, rheumatoid arthritis can result in tissue damage and chronic pain, difficulties with balance, and joint irregularities.
Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by periods during which the symptoms are minimal and periods during which they are more severe (flare-ups).
Predicting flare-ups is difficult, which can make managing the periods during which rheumatoid arthritis inhibits a person’s everyday functioning very challenging.
To better understand how and why flare-ups occur, the authors of the recent study looked into participants’ blood, instead of their joints.
The team has expertise in analyzing RNA, which is a type of messenger that carries instructions from a person’s DNA, to understand its connection with various conditions. Experts can analyze RNA using blood tests.
The researchers used a process called longitudinal RNA sequencing, which monitors changes in a person’s RNA over a long period of time. This allowed them to gain valuable information as rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups came and went.
Over 4 years, one person with rheumatoid arthritis underwent weekly finger-prick blood tests that they completed at home and posted to the researchers.
This participant also reported their symptoms, allowing the researchers to compare the results of the RNA analysis against the person’s flare-ups.