Modulation of the immune system by microbes, especially from the gastrointestinal tract, is increasingly considered a key factor in the onset, course and outcome of rheumatic diseases. The interplay of the microbiome, along with genetic predisposition and environmental exposure, is thought to be an important trigger for rheumatic diseases. Improved identification of the relationship of disease-specific genetic alterations and rheumatic diseases has potential diagnostic and therapeutic applications. Treatment of rheumatic disorders is influenced by microbial actions but this interplay can be challenging due to variable and unpredictable responses to therapies. Expanded knowledge of the microbiome now allows clinicians to more precisely select ideal medication regimens and to predict response to and toxicity from drugs. Rheumatic diseases and associated therapies were among the earliest microbiome interactions investigated, yet it is notable that current research is focused on clinical and immunological associations but, in comparison, a limited number of studies regarding the microbiome’s impact on treatment for rheumatic diseases have been published. In the coming years, further knowledge of immunomodulating interactions between the microbiome and the immune system will aid our understanding of autoimmunity and will be increasingly important in selection of therapeutic agents for patients with autoimmune and rheumatic diseases. In this review, recent literature regarding the bidirectional immunomodulatory effects of the microbiome with rheumatic diseases and current understanding and gaps regarding the drug–microbiome interface in the management of these disorders is presented.
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