The researchers found that a common virus, which resides in the small intestine, may be causing the body's immune system to overreact to the gluten, which in turn leads to celiac disease.
A study conducted by researchers from the Chicago University and the Pittsburgh University's School Of Medicine reveals that reoviruses trigger the immune system response to gluten, which causes celiac disease.
As awareness of celiac disease has grown, so too has the number of people experimenting with gluten-free diets due to concerns about gluten sensitivities.
There's new evidence a virus could be to blame for celiac disease. People with celiac disease had more antibodies to reoviruses in their blood compared to healthy individuals.
Only 17 percent of those believed to have celiac disease have been diagnosed.
This creates a higher possibility for the immune system to generate an inappropriate response to it even in people who do not have the celiac condition.
As such, the study co-author notes that it is important to recognize how a reovirus infection can leave a "permanent mark" on the immune system, which can increase the risk for developing celiac disease.
The key interaction occurs in the mesenteric lymph nodes, where gluten meets up with dendritic cells, which are like the "orchestra conductors" of the immune system, Dermody says. Both reovirus strains induced a protective immune response when tested on mice, allowing them to clear the virus without developing overt clinical symptoms. "This study provides an example of that phenomenon and some mechanistic insight into how this might work for celiac disease", saidHerbert Virgin, a virologist at the University of Washington, who has collaborated with some of the study's authors but was not involved in the present work.
A common and usually harmless virus may trigger celiac disease.
However, the researchers noted that only one particular strain of reovirus, called T1L, triggered the immune responses seen in the study.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on celiac disease. For instance, two per cent of people living in Finnish Karelia suffer from coeliac disease, but only 0.2 per cent of folks residing in its neighbour, the Russian republic of Karelia, do.
At present, the only way to manage celiac disease is to avoid foods containing gluten. This gluten is found in barley, wheat and rye.
But they found another piece of evidence: Humans with coeliac disease seem to have a higher level of the antibody, or pathogen-killing protein, for reovirus - which seemed to imply some sort of earlier viral exposure. This condition consists in an autoimmune disorder produced by an abnormal system response to gluten.
"This study is going to open the door to new research aiming at deciphering why people develop celiac disease and whether we could actually treat children affected by the disease", she told CTV News. The researchers genetically engineered the mice to be more susceptible to celiac disease.
If it is, then a reovirus vaccine could be developed for at-risk children, which could potentially block the development of the disease, "and that would be pretty amazing", Professor Dermody said.
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