How chronic inflammation affects the brain

A recent study demonstrates how the chronic inflammation that characterizes rheumatoid arthritis affects the brain. The results may explain the cognitive symptoms described as “brain fog.”
mri scan of brain

Using MRI (shown here), researchers examined how rheumatoid arthritis inflammation changes the brain.

More than 1.3 million people in the United States live with rheumatoid arthritis.

This is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system does not recognize the synovial fluid in the joints and attacks it, causing chronic inflammation.

But does this chronic inflammation also affect the brain? And if so, how?

This question prompted researchers — co-led by Andrew Schrepf and Chelsea Kaplan, from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor — to examine the brains of 54 people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Schrepf, a research investigator at Michigan Medicine’s Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center, explains the motivation for the study, the results of which have now been published in the journal Nature Communications.

He explains, “Even though it has been assumed for a long time that the inflammation we see in blood is impacting the brain, up until this study we didn’t know precisely where and how those changes in the brain were actually happening.”

Schrepf adds that the effects of inflammation are easier to understand when the illness is short-lived, such as in the case of the flu.

But he also notes that the researchers “wanted to understand what is happening in conditions where patients have inflammation for weeks, months, or years, such as in rheumatoid arthritis.”

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