Surprising results from new research conducted in the USA suggest coeliac disease may be triggered by exposure to a seemingly harmless virus that causes no other symptoms.
The study looked at experimental models that had been engineered to be genetically susceptible to gluten intolerance and then infected with the reovirus strain T1L. Those with genetic predisposition went on to have an immune response against gluten. However, the researchers do not believe this specific virus is the only one that could stimulate the disease.
The findings help to explain why not everyone with genetic predisposition to coeliac disease – as determined by routine genetic screening – actually develops the disease.
Further work remains to determine the mechanism for how a seemingly harmless virus can cause the immune system to react as if it is a harmful protein, causing the typical symptoms of coeliac disease which can include diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, fatigue, weakness and lethargy.
Despite the early stage of this research, it has been suggested that early-childhood vaccinations against potential viral causes of coeliac disease could help to address the high incidence of the condition in the population.
Reference: Bouziat et al. Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.aah5298