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Celiac disease could be provoked by virus

Coeliac disease (or celiac disease) is a long term autoimmune disorder primarily affecting the small intestine. The cause has long been thought to be genetic. New research challenges the genetic link and points towards the possible involvement of a virus. Coeliac disease is caused by a reaction to gluten (a general term for the various proteins, termed prolamins and glutelins, found in wheat and in other grains such as barley, and rye.) Symptoms of the disease include diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating. This happens because the immune system treats gluten as an antigen and attacks it.

The reason for the viral link is based on a new medical survey which notes that the onset of coeliac disease is soemtimes linked to people experiencing infection by adenoviruses, which cause colds; rotaviruses, which can cause diarrhea; and the hepatitis C virus. To test out this association Dr. Bana Jabri of University of Chicago, Illinois has exposed mice to a common reovirus called T1L. The trials showed, as New Scientist magazine reports, that infection with the virus breaks the tolerance of the mice to gluten.

The results lead Dr. Jabri to state in a research briefing: “A virus that is not clinically symptomatic can still do bad things to the immune system and set the stage for an autoimmune disorder.” A corresponding review of people with celiac disease found that celiac disease patients had much higher levels of antibodies against reoviruses than those without the disease.

This further reinforces the connected, paving the way for future studies into the condition. As to why celiac disease develops, Dr. Jabri conjectures: “During the first year of life, the immune system is still maturing, so for a child with a particular genetic background, getting a particular virus at that time can leave a kind of scar that then has long-term consequences.”

The research is reported to the journal Science, in a research paper titled “Reovirus infection triggers inflammatory responses to dietary antigens and development of celiac disease.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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