Patients with the autoimmune disorder systemic sclerosis have a unique microbiome pattern in their gut, suggests research
presented at the Annual European Congress of Rheumatology (EULAR) in Rome on 11 June 2015.
This could point to potential new treatments such as faecal transplant or diet modification, suggests the lead author of the study.
Systemic sclerosis, also known as scleroderma, affects multiple areas of the body including the skin, lungs, gastrointestinal tract and kidneys. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) analysed the microbial colonies of the gut in 17 patients with systemic sclerosis and compared them with 17 healthy volunteers. They found an increase in the presence of inflammatory bacteria and a decrease of protective bacteria.
The observed pattern overlapped with that seen in patients with Crohn’s disease, said lead author Elizabeth Volkmann, rheumatologist at UCLA. However, surprisingly there was an increase in two species of bacteria often associated with a healthy gut — lactobacillus species, which are the main component of probiotic diet supplements. Volkmann said that some patients were taking probiotics but were asked to stop three weeks prior to the study, so the cause is unclear.
Researchers are not sure whether the changes in the gut microbiome are the cause or effect of systemic sclerosis. Many patients with systemic sclerosis suffer severe gastrointestinal effects so finding a treatment would be a huge benefit to them.
 Volkmann E, Chang Y-L & Barroso N. Systemic sclerosis is associated with a unique colonic microbial consortium. Annual European Congress of Rheumatology 2015. 11 June 2015.