Bacterium Tracks Discovered In Arteries With Giant Cell Arteritis (Temporal Arteritis)

Giant cell arteritis, also called temporal arteritis or cranial arteritis, is a serious disease that is characterized by inflammation of the walls of the blood vessels (vasculitis). The vessels affected are the arteries (hence the name "arteritis"). The diagnosis is confirmed with a biopsy of an artery, usually an artery on the side of the scalp called the temporal artery.

Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is a disorder of the muscles and joints of older persons. It is characterized by pain and stiffness, affects both sides of the body, and involves the shoulders, arms, neck, and buttock areas.

Giant cell arteritis occurs in 10-15% of patients with polymyalgia rheumatica. The age of affected patients with these conditions is over 50 years. The onset of giant cell arteritis may be years before, after, or without accompanying polymyalgia rheumatica.

The cause of giant cell arteritis and polymyalgia rheumatica is unknown. Recent research has indicated that genetic (inherited) factors play a role in these diseases. Theories of causes have included viral stimulation of the immune system in genetically susceptible individuals.

Researchers in Germany recently discovered evidence of the presence of a bacterium, called Chlamydia pneumonia, in the arteries of patients with giant cell arteritis and polymyalgia rheumatica.

Dr. Annette D. Wagner and colleagues at Medical School Hanover studied the temporal artery biopsies of 9 patients with giant cell arteritis, 4 patients with polymyalgia rheumatica, and 9 arteries from patients without either giant cell arteritis or polymyalgia rheumatica. The researchers were aware that respiratory infections are often present in the early stages of patients with giant cell arteritis and polymyalgia rheumatica. Furthermore, they appreciated that the Chlamydia pneumonia bacteria is a common cause of respiratory infections and used special methods to detect signs of this particular microbe.