AIM/BACKGROUND: Mycoplasmas, especially Mycoplasma fermentans, were suggested more than 20 years ago as a possible cause of rheumatoid arthritis but this hypothesis was never substantiated. In view of the superior sensitivity of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay over culture, the aim was to use this method to seek M fermentans and M penetrans in synovial samples from patients with various arthritides. METHODS: Synovial fluid samples (n = 154) and synovial biopsy specimens (n = 20) from 133 patients with various rheumatic disorders were stored at -80 degrees C for between one and 40 months. Aliquots (500 microliters) of the synovial fluid samples were centrifuged and the deposit, and also the synovial biopsy specimens (approximately 1 g) were placed in lysis buffer with proteinase K for DNA extraction. The DNA was tested by using a semi-nested PCR assay for M fermentans and a single-round PCR for M penetrans. RESULTS: M fermentans was detected in the joints of eight (21%) of 38 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, two (20%) of 10 patients with spondyloarthropathy with peripheral arthritis, one (20%) of five patients with psoriatic arthritis, and four (13%) of 31 patients with unclassified arthritis. M fermentans was not found in the joints of the seven patients with reactive arthritis, the 29 with osteoarthritis or post-traumatic hydrarthrosis, the nine with gouty arthritis, nor the four with chronic juvenile arthritis. M penetrans was not detected in any sample. CONCLUSIONS: These findings show that the presence of M fermentans in the joint is associated with inflammatory rheumatic disorders of unknown cause, including rheumatoid arthritis. However, whether this organism triggers or perpetuates disease of behaves as a passenger remains conjectural.
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