New Psoriatic Arthritis Research Offers Hope

Medically Reviewed by Farah Ahmed, MD on February 05, 2015

Feb. 5, 2015 -- Future tests to determine whether people with the skin condition psoriasis are at risk of going on to get psoriatic arthritis have come a step closer. Scientists say they've identified a gene behind the latter disease.

Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) causes painful inflammation and swelling around the joints. It usually affects people who've been diagnosed with psoriasis, a common symptom of which is a red, scaly rash on some parts of the body.

Until recently, opinion was divided as to whether psoriatic arthritis was a disease in its own right, or psoriasis combined with rheumatoid arthritis. But only one-third of people with psoriasis end up getting PsA.

Now, a research team led by the University of Manchester in England has discovered genetic changes that are linked to PsA but not with psoriasis, making it possible to distinguish between which people with psoriasis are at risk of psoriatic arthritis and which are not.

John Bowes, who led the analysis of the work, says in a statement: "Our study is beginning to reveal key insights into the genetics of PsA that explain fundamental differences between psoriasis and PsA.”

Professor Anne Barton, a rheumatologist and senior author on the study, explains further: "By identifying genes that predispose people to PsA but not psoriasis, we hope in the future to be able to test patients with psoriasis to find those at high risk of developing PsA.

"Excitingly, it raises the possibility of introducing treatments to prevent the development of PsA in those individuals in the future."

The gene pinpointed by the research team is not the first PsA-specific gene to be identified. 

Dr. Stephen Simpson, director of research at Arthritis Research UK, which helped fund the study, says in a statement: "This is a significant finding. Not only does it help establish PsA as a condition in its own right, but it could have major implications in the way that patients with this condition are treated and lead to the development of drugs specifically developed for PsA, which are greatly needed."

The research was also funded by the National Institute for Health Research Manchester Musculoskeletal Biomedical Research Unit.