Institutional members access full text with Ovid®

Share this article on:

Max Schüller and an Alleged Microbial Cause of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Benedek, Thomas G. MD

JCR: Journal of Clinical Rheumatology: June 2014 - Volume 20 - Issue 4 - p 215–220
doi: 10.1097/RHU.0000000000000107
Rheumatology Retrospective

Max Schüller (1843–1907) was a German surgeon and microbiologist. From 1884 to 1905, he published histopathologic and bacteriological research on bacterial infection of human joints. Beginning in 1892, he focused on a bacterium he had identified in joints of patients with rheumatoid arthritis and surmised that he had discovered the cause of this disease. He persisted in conducting various experiments, some original at the time, with which he convinced himself of the validity of his discovery, without considering the possibility that he was working on contaminants. Contemporaneous attempts to confirm Schüller’s findings gave inconsistent results. A century of microbiological research with ever more sensitive techniques has not definitively answered the etiologic question. This history is a cautionary tale of the difficulty of disproving an erroneous premise.

From the Department of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA.

All translations are by the author.

No funding was obtained for this study.

The author declares no conflict of interest.

Correspondence: Thomas G. Benedek, MD, Department of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, 1130 Wightman St, Pittsburgh, PA 15217. E-mail:

© 2014 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.