The disease is caused by an improper immune response to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, which damages the lining of the small intestine and for which there is no cure.
To test this idea, Bana Jabri of the University of Chicago and colleagues infected mice with different reoviruses, a family of common viruses that frequently infect humans, animals and plants.
The team's findings could explain why only a small proportion of people develop coeliac disease, which is a far more severe condition that gluten intolerances. For instance, two per cent of people living in Finnish Karelia suffer from coeliac disease, but only 0.2 per cent of folks residing in its neighbour, the Russian republic of Karelia, do. However, this is strongly dependent on the host as well, and how his health may influence the interaction between the virus and other cells in the body.
I've reached out to a few doctors and folks from the Celiac Disease Foundation for an outside comment-one major caveat is the fact that the study was in mice, and effects in mice might not translate to effects in humans.
In people with coeliac disease, the protein gluten is treated like a harmful pathogen.
There's new evidence a virus could be to blame for celiac disease.
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According to the team, this suggests that infection with a reovirus could leave a permanent mark on the immune system that sets the stage for a later autoimmune response to gluten. Celiac disease, an autoimmune pathology, has no effective remedy at present, the only way to avoid exposure to its painful symptoms is to proscribe the nutrient in question from its diet.
Dr. Terrence Dermody, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, calls it a breakthrough. But only 3 to 4 percent of people with the genetic mutations will develop celiac, so researchers suspect something else is triggering the overactive immune response.
The reovirus strain is so harmless that often people don't even realise that they've been infected, the study authors said, which could be why it's been overlooked as a factor up until now. Despite the prevalence of the disease - 1 in 133 people in the US are impacted by it, according to the study - only 17 percent of Americans have been diagnosed with it. More specifically, the virus primes their immune systems to shut down regulatory cells that hold back overly aggressive immune responses.
Specialists also unveiled patients with a celiac condition who indicated to have high levels of reovirus antibodies and who also had the expression of a gene which encodes IRF1 protein. Follow-up study is required, the researchers noted, as there was no clear correlation of antibody levels and evidence of an inflammatory response.
"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".
The result of the study is a shift from other studies that focus on celiac disease as a genetic disorder.
Celiac disease: how common it is? . This is important, since it analyzes the possibility of being able to prevent these diseases by developing vaccines against them.