A Usually Harmless Virus Can Trigger Celiac Disease, Study Finds

Posted: Apr 9 2017, 1:13pm CDT | by , Updated: Apr 9 2017, 1:21pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
A Usually Harmless Virus Can Trigger Celiac Disease, Study Finds
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Reovirus can cause the immune system to overreact to gluten, leading to the development of celiac disease

Celiac is a serious disorder in which people can’t digest gluten, so the consumption of this dietary protein can damage small intestine and lead to various digestive problems. Fortunately, celiac is not a common disease. About 1 percent or 1 in 100 people are affected by the disorder.

Up until now, research have thought that celiac is a genetic disease. However a new research suggests that a certain type of virus can prompt immune system to attack small intestine and trigger celiac disease. The virus, named reovirus, is typically considered to be a harmless virus but exposure to its certain strains can make digestive system intolerant to gluten.

“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,” said co study author Bana Jabri from University of Chicago. “However, the specific virus and its genes, the interaction between the microbe and the host, and the health status of the host are all going to matter as well.”

For the study, researchers infected laboratory mice with common strains of human reovirus and found that the immune system started to overreact to gluten after the transmission of the virus. The study confirms the link between reovirus and celiac disease and also shows how different strains of a seemingly harmless virus can lead to negative consequences on immune system.

“We have been studying reovirus for some time, and we are surprised by the discovery of a potential link between reovirus and celiac disease," said co researcher Terence Dermody from University of Pittsburgh. “We are now in a position to precisely define the viral factors responsible for the induction of the autoimmune response.”

Researchers have also found that celiac patients had much higher levels of antibodies against reoviruses compared to people without the disease. Antibody is a substance that is produced by the immune system to fight against harmful intruders. When an intruder enters the body, immune system responds and prevents it from harming the body. In the presense of reovirus immune systems see gluten as a dangerous material and promotes a destructive inflammatory response.

The findings suggest the presences of reovirus leaves a permanent mark on the immune system that could trigger celiac disease if even with the smallest exposure to gluten.

“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 has long term consequences,” said Jabri. “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.”

Currently, there is no treatment for celiac disease. Experts recommend gluten free diet – a food without wheat, barley and rye - for the people suffering from celiac disease. Avoiding gluten is the most effective treatment for celiac disease as of now but latest findings could possibly lead to better treatments, vaccines or medications that one day be used to prevent celiac and other autoimmune diseases.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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