A protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF) has been shown to be linked with a deficiency of male sex hormones in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The discovery, made during a study conducted at University Hospital Regensburg, Germany, may give researchers new insights into the underlying cause of RA.
TNF is involved in multiple cell functions, and it is also known to provoke destructive inflammation. A common belief is that the male sex hormones, androgens, play an important role in helping fight inflammation in rheumatic diseases, including arthritis. Researchers in this study focused on TNF's role in the production of androgen. They found that TNF helps to convert dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) into DHEA, the steroid hormone "parent" of androgen. When they analyzed tissue samples from 37 patients with either RA or osteoarthritis, they found that levels of both DHEAS and DHEA were much lower in those with RA than in the osteoarthritic patients.
The researchers said that this study provides more information about androgen deficiency in RA patients. It also confirms the need for further research into the use of TNF-blocking drugs as a treatment option for RA.