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This article is the author’s final published version in Annals of Medicine, Volume 53, Issue 1, December 2021, Pages 2380-2390.

The published version is available at Copyright © Guido et al.


Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common condition affecting human joints. Along with mechanical and genetic factors, low-grade inflammation is increasingly supported as a causal factor in the development of OA. Gut microbiota and intestinal permeability, via the disruption of tight junction competency, are proposed to explain a gut-joint axis through the interaction with the host immune system. Since previous studies and methods have underestimated the role of the gut-joint axis in OA and have only focussed on the characterisation of microbiota phenotypes, this systematic review aims to appraise the current evidence concerning the influence of gut permeability in the pathogenesis of OA. We propose that the tight junction disruption may be due to an increase in zonulin activity as already demonstrated for many other chronic inflammatory disorders. After years of unreliable quantification, one study optimised the methodology, showing a positive validated correlation between plasma lipopolysaccharide (LPS), obesity, joint inflammation, and OA severity. Chemokines show a prominent role in pain development. Our systematic review confirms preliminary evidence supporting a gut-joint axis in OA pathogenesis and progression. Being modifiable by several factors, the gut microbiota is a promising target for treatment. We propose a pathogenetic model in which dysbiosis is correlated to the bipartite graph of tight junctions and bacterially-produced products, aiming to direct future studies in the search of other bacterial products and tight junction disassembly regulators.KEY MESSAGESPrevious studies and methods have underestimated the impact of the gut-joint axis in osteoarthritis and have focussed on the characterisation of microbiota phenotypes rather than clear molecular mediators of disease.Gut dysbiosis is related to higher levels of bacterial toxins that elicit cartilage and synovium inflammatory pathways.Future research may benefit from focussing on both tight junctions and bacterially-produced products.

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