Does accelerated epigenetically defined ageing, including immune ageing, contribute to RA pathogenesis? Interaction in the development of RA


Age is a major risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), yet we understand little of the role ageing processes play in RA pathogenesis. Why this matters is that if ageing processes are a driver for RA, then improved understanding of the mechanisms involved may reveal innovative approaches to prevention or early treatment of this disease.

Facts and figures

Project lead
J Lord
University of Birmingham
2018 - 2021
FOREUM research grant: € 599,881

Meet the team

J Lord
University of Birmingham
K Raza
University of Birmingham
A Pratt
University of Newcastle
A Catrina
Karolinska Institutet
L Padyukov
University of Birmingham
L Mirbahai
University of Birmingham
A van der Helm-van Mil
UMC Leiden


We hypothesise that environmental factors such as smoking and genetic predisposition can cause premature ageing leading to an aged epigenome signature, driving immunesenescence and RA pathogenesis. DNA methylation at 350 specific sites, termed the epigenetic clock, has been identified as an indicator of biological age. We will analyse existing data from patients with established RA and generate new data from very early RA cohorts across Europe to determine if the DNA methylation signature shows advanced ageing in RA patients and if this occurs in the earliest stages of the disease. We will also assess immune phenotype at the various stages of disease development to see if this occurs early or is a consequence of disease.

Patient voice

We have discussed the proposal with a patient group in Birmingham, they thought the idea novel and worthwhile. We gained their input to the lay summary. We will have patient representatives at each site to support the writing of our patient information sheets and to help communicate the findings of the project.
There are no obvious risks of the project to the patient as it primarily involves the taking of a blood sample. Technical risk is minimal as the assays involved are already carried out in our laboratories.

Interim results

The interim data suggest that thymic atrophy occurs early in disease, but the build up of senescent cells is more likely a consequence of disease.