A new study shows that an innocuous type of virus could be a trigger for the celiac disease condition. Reovirus infections are usually harmless to humans, but according to recent findings, these could cause an immune system response to gluten and therefore the known celiac disease.
According to the investigation, viruses may be responsible for triggering several conditions like type 1 diabetes and the celiac disease itself. This fact is not all bad since now scientists are wondering if vaccines against viruses could help on fighting the development of those type of conditions.
The research was published this Friday in the journal Science and was conducted from the University of Chicago and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The senior author of the study, Bana Jabri is a professor in the Department of Medicine and Pediatrics and director of research at the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.
“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 Jabri. “However, the particular 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.”
Celiac disease: how common it is?
This type of condition is present in about one every 133 Americans, although according to recent surveys, it is believed that more than 17 percent of affected people have not been officially diagnosed with the disease. This condition consists in an autoimmune disorder produced by an abnormal system response to gluten.
The protein gluten is commonly an element present in wheat and rye, and a wrong response of the organism may lead to severe damages within the intestinal lining. Currently, there are no known cures for this celiac condition but for the patient to have a gluten-free diet regime.
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. However, the way the inflammatory immune system responds to gluten is poorly known and understood by health scientists.
Intestinal viruses and celiac condition: a direct relation
According to the study, several types of intestinal viruses could produce a system overreaction to gluten which translates into a possible development of the celiac disease. On this issue, the investigators used two strains of a reovirus to demonstrate how the genetic differences are crucial to understanding the reaction of the system to a particular virus and therefore to a specific protein.
In the experimentation, the researchers realized that when given these viruses to mice, the reaction of each one was different even when both had the same characteristics. Given genetic variances, one of them lost its oral gluten tolerance thanks to the triggering of an inflammatory immune response, while the other did not present any similar consequence whatsoever.
“We have been studying reovirus for some time, and we were surprised by the discovery of a potential link between reovirus and celiac disease. We are now in a position to precisely define the viral factors responsible for the induction of the autoimmune response,” said study collaborator Terence Dermody, MD, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
The particular type of reovirus that triggered the immune response is called the T1L, while the T3D did not show any consequences regarding the immune system.
More steps are needed to actually generate damage to the small intestine, and this particular investigation did not look further into those steps.
A body of new studies are necessary to determine if there is a direct relation between the presence of a particular reovirus in a person and the inclusion of gluten in the individual’s diet with the development of the celiac condition.
Dr. Jabri and her team are orienting their efforts to the analysis of the standard critical features of host-viral interactions and its relation to a possible loss of tolerance to certain antigens. Along with that investigation, the same team of scientists is starting a different research about the possibilities for other viruses to be producing similar conditions and how they do it.
The results of all the studies could lead to the development of a specific vaccine capable of repelling certain circumstances by fighting several types of reoviruses. This could protect children from conditions like the celiac disease and other autoimmune disorders.