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Environmental Causes Linked to Celiac Disease

Photo courtesy of The Daily Beast

For people with celiac disease, gluten is treated as a harmful toxin. In response to the “toxin,” the immune system damages the lining of the small intestine, causing symptoms such as cramps, indigestion, and bloody diarrhea.

Terence Dermody and colleagues found that the T1L reovirus might trigger celiac disease. The interaction occurs in the mesenteric lymph nodes, where gluten meets with dendritic cells, which control whether the immune system ignores a substance or attacks it. The virus tricks the cells into thinking that gluten is dangerous, triggering the immune system to attack the gluten and resemble celiac disease. Dermody also discovered that T1L stimulates the enzyme tissue transglutaminase. This enzyme, in people with celiac disease, makes gluten more likely to trigger a harmful response.

Photo courtesy of Medscape

Reoviruses are not very harmful and it appears all people have been affected or exposed to these viruses. However, researchers have found that if the first exposure to a food with gluten occurs during infection, the virus may turn the immune system against the food and in turn, cause celiac disease. Essentially, the reovirus can turn a harmless food protein into a dangerous pathogen either by chance or if incorrectly timed. In fact, Dermody believes that more viruses than the T1L reovirus can stimulate celiac disease. “Viruses have been suspected as potential triggers of autoimmune or food allergy–related diseases for decades,” says Herbert Virgin, a viral immunologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Infection.

This groundbreaking research is especially revolutionary as celiac disease is thought to be passed down genetically. However, most cases of celiac disease seem to be hereditary, but this newfound information can possibly help prevent future cases of this disorder. A reovirus vaccine could be developed for at-risk children, which could potentially prevent the development of celiac disease. Although there is no cure for celiac disease at the moment, this new research can help foster further research to find new treatments and cures for this silent, yet devastating disease.

By Angelina Maleska’17, Guest Writer

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