Rheumatoid arthritis affects one in six people. Although the specific trigger is unclear, the condition occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks tissue within the joints. Symptoms include swelling, pain, stiffness and redness caused by an accumulation of white blood cells in and around the joint. When the inflammation persists for a long time, it may cause irreversible cartilage damage and bone erosion, leading to deformity and disability. In her previous MSFHR-funded research, Jennifer Cox examined molecular influences on the immune system. Now she is focusing on understanding the inflammatory process in the development of arthritis. Jennifer is studying MMP-8, a member of a family of enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases that function to break down proteins in the body. This process, called proteolysis, is essential for normal immune responses. However, an unusually high level of MMPs may contribute to diseases such as arthritis and cancer. For example, elevated levels of MMP-8 are present in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Jennifer is researching whether MMP-8 contributes to the progression and severity of the disease, or conversely if the high levels of enzyme are protecting against inflammation. Her findings will contribute to a better understanding of the inflammatory process and potentially to new methods for treating rheumatoid arthritis.