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Reovirus, according to a recent study, triggers gluten intolerance
A gluten intolerance manifests itself above all in massive digestive complaints when so-called gluten proteins (gluten) are taken up. The small intestinal mucosa shows chronic inflammation in those affected, which also affects the absorption of nutrients from food. The inflammation is due to a misguided immune system response. According to the latest study results from an international team of researchers, the latter is apparently caused by special viruses.
According to the scientists, the otherwise relatively harmless reoviruses have a significant influence on the development of celiac disease (gluten intolerance). The research team led by Professor Bana Jabri from the University of Chicago was able to demonstrate in a special virus infection model that the reoviruses contribute to the misguided immune system response that occurs when exposed to gluten. The researchers published their research results in the scientific journal Science Translational Medicine.
Reoviruses are usually harmless
Reoviruses are fairly common, but most people are immune to infection. As a rule, health problems are not to be expected, the scientists explain. However, the reoviruses and their genes show interactions with the host that can have a long-term effect on their health, the scientists report. In their current study, Prof. Jabri and colleagues examined the effects of these viruses on the immune response to gluten and came to an extremely surprising result.
Certain strains of viruses cause the immune system to overreact
In a virus infection model in mice, the researchers tested two different reovirus strains. They found that protective immunity was initially built up in both virus strains. However, one virus strain showed an inflammatory immune response and loss of tolerance to gluten, while the other virus strain was not observed. According to Prof. Jabri and colleagues, certain genetic variants of the intestinal viruses can trigger the overreaction of the immune system to gluten and initiate the development of celiac disease.
Permanent mark in the immune system
In further studies, the scientists found that celiac disease patients have much higher concentrations of antibodies against reoviruses than people without gluten intolerance. "The celiac disease patients who had high levels of reovirus antibodies also showed much higher levels of IRF1 gene expression - a transcriptional regulator that plays a key role in losing oral gluten tolerance," the researchers write. This suggests that reovirus infection can leave a permanent marker in the immune system, which forms the basis for a later autoimmune reaction to gluten.
Starting point of celiac disease in infancy?
According to the scientists, infection with the reovirus can be an important initiating event for the development of celiac disease, although it can be assumed that this often happens already in infancy. Children with an immature immune system are more susceptible to viral infections, and those who have a genetic predisposition to celiac disease, the combination of a reovirus infection and the first gluten intake could be the starting point for the development of celiac disease, the researchers suspect.
Inconspicuous virus with far-reaching effects
"The study clearly shows that a virus that is not clinically symptomatic can still have a negative impact on the immune system," reports Prof. Jabri. The results also provide a new approach to explaining celiac disease. With the reoviruses, the researchers are now able to "precisely define the virus factors responsible for the induction of the autoimmune response." In further studies, the clinical significance of the reovirus infections in connection with the development of celiac disease must be examined. (fp)