Typically Harmless Virus May Trigger Celiac Disease

An otherwise harmless virus called reovirus in infants could be responsible for triggering the immune system's response that leads to celiac disease, according to research published Thursday by the University of Chicago and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

If you weren't aware, celiac diases is a condition caused by an abnormal immune response to the protein in gluten.

In the new study, a common strain of a human reovirus triggered an inflammatory immune response to gluten in mice that had been genetically engineered to over-produce antibodies (proteins that are supposed to attack toxins in the blood).

"This study clearly shows that a virus that is not clinically symptomatic can still do bad things to the immune system and set the stage for an autoimmune disorder, and for celiac disease in particular", a senior author of the study, Bana Jabri, said. Celiac disease is an autoimmune response of the body to consumption of gluten, usually present in most breads.

The common but harmless virus, known as the reovirus, may cause our immune systems to reject gluten. Using two different reovirus strains, the researchers showed how genetic differences between viruses can change how they interact with the immune system. However, evidence showing exactly how any virus might trigger the disease is lacking. "The question has always been, 'What can trigger celiac disease in the 1 percent of the population when we know 40 percent of people have that gene?'" However, low diagnosis doesn't necessarily mean people don't have celiac disease, it just means they haven't officially been diagnosed with it by a doctor. Despite the prevalence of the disease - 1 in 133 people in the US are impacted by it, according to the study - only 17 percent of Americans have been diagnosed with it.

Additionally, the analysis revealed that a higher level of reovirus antibodies was associated with increased expression of the IRF1 gene, which is a key player in the loss of oral tolerance to gluten. More exactly, a reovirus infection could potentially trigger this affection. They were surprised to find out that the immune response triggered by the strain only happens when the molecule Interferon regulatory factor 1 was present. For instance, two percent of people living in Finnish Karelia suffer from celiac disease, but only.2 percent of folks residing in its neighbor, the Russian republic of Karelia, do. One that suggests that autoimmune diseases may also be caused by outside pathogens and their influence on the body.

The result of the study is a shift from other studies that focus on celiac disease as a genetic disorder.

According to Coeliac UK, one in 100 people in the UK has coeliac disease, with the prevalence rising to one in ten for close family members. Maybe, in the future we might even develop a reovirus vaccine to help block coeliac disease from beginning.

"If confirmed by clinical studies, this link between celiac disease and reovirus is exciting because it identifies a possible target for vaccine prevention", said Alessio Fasano, a pediatric gastroenterologist who studies celiac disease at the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in Boston and who was not involved in the work.

  • Lila Blake