The joints of children with the most common form of chronic inflammatory arthritis contain immune cells that resemble those of 90-year-olds, according to a new study led by researchers at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The findings, published in the August issue of Arthritis and Rheumatism, suggest that innovative treatment approaches could aim to prevent premature aging of immune cells.

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis, or JIA, is the most prevalent rheumatic condition in the world and affects one of every 1,000 children in the U.S., said senior researcher Abbe de Vallejo, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics and immunology, Pitt School of Medicine. It usually starts with a swollen ankle, knee or wrist that parents often assume is due to a minor injury sustained while playing.

Doctors have long thought of JIA as an autoimmune disease, meaning the body attacks itself. But previous studies by Dr. de Vallejo of young adults with rheumatoid arthritis indicated that a certain population of cells present in the joint synovial fluid and blood displayed telltale signs of abnormal cell division and premature aging. His current team at Children’s wanted to see if that was true in pediatric arthritis.

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