A common virus can trigger life-long allergy to gluten

Barsaba Taglieri
Aprile 10, 2017

Then, when they eat gluten-a group of proteins found in wheat and other grains, such as barley and rye-their immune systems mistakenly treat the proteins as toxic and mount a damaging inflammatory response, leading to discomfort and gastrointestinal problems.

A virus that doesn't induce obvious signs of infection could act as a trigger in the development of celiac disease, according to new research that may offer clues to the puzzling origins of autoimmune diseases.

Currently, no known cure for celiac disease exists and the solitary course of treatment lies in avoiding gluten products.

A common virus may trigger gluten intolerance in children and explain why the number of people reporting symptoms is skyrocketing, say authors of new research. However, a person infected with it may be susceptible to Celiac Disease.

In America, many children are introduced to solid foods - many of which contain gluten - around the same time they experience an initial viral infection.

"What its saying is, here's a mechanism for how what otherwise might seem to be harmless virus might confuse the immune system into thinking something's a harmful protein".

For the new study, the team set out to determine whether there might be a link between reovirus infection and celiac disease.

"The significance of this work is that it provides a mechanism for how virus infection might actually trigger the disease", Dr Tye-Din said.

Normally, a regulatory immune response blocks inflammation to dietary antigens. They tested this by infecting mice with a common strain of reovirus, which is usually symptomless, and then feeding them small amounts of gliadin, a component of gluten. But now, a large global team of researchers has presented some convincing evidence that the story goes deeper than that-the disease's trigger might lie in a benign viral infection. This caused them to suffer inflammation specific to celiac disease. But most people with celiac-associated gene mutations don't get celiac disease, and scientists didn't know why.

The researchers compared about 18,000 women with confirmed cases of celiac disease to over 89,000 others who were never diagnosed.

In the study, researchers also investigated whether there was a defining characteristic for reovirus in celiac disease.

The study involved mice but results were coordinated with analysis of humans with celiac disease, who showed higher levels of antibodies to the reovirus, all of which helped confirm the findings. It didn't cause celiac disease outright, however. But if the first exposure to a food with gluten occurs during infection, the virus may turn the immune system against the food protein, the researchers found. One that suggests that autoimmune diseases may also be caused by outside pathogens and their influence on the body.

"That's why we believe that once we have more studies, we may want to think about whether children at high risk of developing celiac disease should be vaccinated", revealed Bana Jabri, Ph.D, professor in the Department of Medicine and Pediatrics at the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center. The study also raises the possibility that vaccines could be developed to guard against reoviruses, and potentially to protect people with the genetic predisposition from developing celiac.

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