Virus May Trigger Celiac Disease

Research carried out by the University of Chicago and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine indicates that infection in infancy with a common, normally harmless virus may lead to celiac disease.

The research adds more weight to a new theory that viruses may be the triggers for many auto-immune disorders such as Type 1 diabetes and celiac disease.

“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 study senior author Bana Jabri, MD, PhD, professor in the Department of Medicine and Pediatrics, vice chair for research in the Department of Medicine, and director of research at the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center. “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.”

The study showed that infection with the virus shows no obvious symptoms, but causes the immune system to over-react to gluten and trigger celiac disease. Patients with celiac disease had a much higher levels of antibodies against the viruses than those without the disease. These patients also had a much higher level of a particular gene that plays a key role in the development of an intolerance to celiac disease.

One potential result of this research may be the development of a vaccine to be given to infants who have a high risk of developing celiac disease to prevent them becoming infected with this virus. While it may not stop all children from developing celiac disease, it may help to minimise the numbers who are affected.



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