Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronical autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. It can affect the skin, joints, kidneys, the brain and other organs. In Spain, between forty and fifty thousand people suffer from lupus, according to the Spanish Association of Lupus (Federación Española de Lupus). A new research study, lead by researchers from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC-Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas), has deciphered the profile of gut microbiota in SLE patients.

Results published in the October issue of mBIO magazine showed an imbalance in the ratio of the two largest groups of microorganisms in the human gut (Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes) in favour of Bacteriodetes, while the overall bacterial load and diversity was similar between patients and controls. “Previous evidence suggests that gut microbiota might impact symptoms and progression of some autoimmune diseases. However, this had not been studied in SLE patients using massive sequencing techniques. The intestinal dysbiosis described in this work allows us to consider the microbiota as a new target to point to attack SLE symptoms”, the coordinator of the study, Abelardo Margolles, a CSIC researcher at the Instituto de Productos Lácteos of Asturias, explained to Gut Microbiota Worldwatch.

In the study, a group of 20 SLE patients from a specific geographical location (the region of Asturias, in Spain) were compared to a similar group of healthy people, taking factors such as sex, age, medication and medical history into account. The group of SLE patients included individuals with a large variety of symptoms, allowing researchers to establish correlations between the microbial profile and SLE. “Growing evidence suggests that the microbiota might impact symptoms and progression of some autoimmune diseases”, researchers say in the paper. “However”, they add, “how and why this microbial community influences SLE remains to be elucidated”.

“With the current work we cannot anticipate the success of microbiota-targeted approaches to treat SLE, but our study opens new avenues to explore. For example, we know that the intestinal microbial profile can be modulated with dietary patterns, and we could think on dietary intervention strategies to favor the increase of specific microbial populations that, perhaps, could have an influence on SLE symptomatology”, Margolles adds.