What if gluten intolerance was caused by harmless viruses?

A new study suggests that a simple, usually benign virus could trigger gluten allergy, as well as another illness. This surprising research leaves researchers with the possibility of creating a vaccine.

“This study clearly shows that a virus that is not clinically pathogenic can be very detrimental to the immune system and create conditions favoring an autoimmune disorder, celiac disease in particular,”
says Dr. Bana Jabri, research director at the University of Chicago, the main author of this research.

Published in the journal Science on April 7, 2017, this work indicates that non-pathogenic viruses could cause celiac disease, the latter resulting in, among other things, intolerance to gluten, this set of proteins found in the grains of many cereals and present in a large part of our diet.

These are intestinal viruses called reoviruses. After experiments carried out on mice carrying a genetic mutation (DQ8) making them predisposed to contract celiac disease, these human retroviruses caused an inflammatory reaction as well as a loss of oral tolerance to gluten. Another strain close to the virus, but genetically different seems to have had no direct effect. However, this can “permanently affect the immune system and set the stage for an overreaction to gluten” simply by increasing the amount of antibodies present in the gut.

The research does not stop there since such viruses could also be the cause of childhood type 1 diabetes, which has been assumed for years. Indeed, many children eat their first cereals with gluten at the age of about 6 months when their immune system is not yet very efficient and resistant to viruses.

« During the first year of life, the immune system continues to form, leaving some children with particular genetic characteristics more susceptible to these viruses which can leave lasting intestinal sequelae »,
explains Dr. Jabri.

The specialist believes that this is a thorny question requiring further research. It will certainly be necessary to think about vaccinating children who are at high risk of developing celiac disease.

Sources: Sciences et Avenir – 7 of 7

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