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Since the early 1900s gold salts have been used to ease the pain and swelling of rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. Scientists never understood why gold worked in the treatment for arthritis and recently has been replaced by faster acting methotrexate. Now gold treatment is considered a last resort.

Gold treatment take months to work and the side effects sometimes included rashes, mouth sores, kidney damage, and occasionally problems with bone marrow’s ability to make new blood cells.

Researchers believe the molecule HMBG1 provokes inflammation and the key instigator in the development of rheumatoid arthritis. What makes HMBG1 interesting is that it behaves differently when inside the nucleus of a cell than when released from the cell.

Inside the nucleus, HMBG1 is critical in transcribing DNA to its RNA equivalent, but when the cell releases the HMBG1 molecule it becomes a stimulus to the immune system and enhances inflammation. Most commonly HMBG1 is found in the tissue and fluid around the joints–where arthritis occurs. 

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center, University of Pittsburgh, and the Karolinska Institute (in Sweeden), believe gold salts block the release of HMBG1 from the nucleus of the cell, which in turns lessens the amount available to provoke the body’s immune system and creating the inflammatory response.

Now that the gold salts treatment is better understood researchers believe the knowledge will lead the way to new and safer-acting gold based treatments.