Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a multifactorial disease caused by genetic and environmental factors: however, precise molecular mechanisms underlying its pathogenesis remain largely unknown. Treatment of RA patients with disease-modifying biological agents occasionally promotes Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection or recurrence of M. tuberculosis, although how infection promotes arthritis has not been characterized. Here, we found that arthritis phenotypes in a collagen-induced mouse model were evident only when killed M. tuberculosis was co-administered. Treatment of cultured macrophages with killed M. tuberculosis promoted production of IL-6, a major inflammatory cytokine in RA patients, while similar treatment of TLR2-deficient macrophages failed to induce IL-6 expression. Arthritis scores, joint destruction, and serum IL-6 levels were all significantly ameliorated in TLR2-deficient compared with wild-type mice, even in animals treated with killed M. tuberculosis. These results suggest that M. tuberculosis infection enhances arthritis development and that TLR2 could serve as a therapeutic target for some forms of the disease.
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