Home Science Biology Scientists identify origins of Celiac Disease


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Australian/U.K. scientists have identified the molecular material that causes celiac disease in some humans. They hope the discovery will lead to a drug to control the disease that prevents such people from eating gluten-based foods.


The researchers from Australia and the United Kingdom have found three protein fragments found in the gluten of wheat, rye, and barley that may cause the immune response to gluten in those people that are genetically predisposed to celiac disease (or, coeliac disease).

Celiac disease is an intestinal illness that damages the small intestine. It is estimated to affect up to one in 133 people in the United States. The disease is found throughout the world.

Most people digest gluten easily. However, people with celiac disease have a negative response to gluten.

Consequently, they have to stringently avoid foods and beverages, such as most breads, cereals, pasta, and beer, which contain gluten.

Gluten consists of two proteins'”gliadin an glutenin'”that is found in grass-related grains, such as wheat, rye, and barley.

When eaten by people sensitive to gluten, it damages the walls of their small intestine, and causes diarrhea or constipation, bloating, gas, loose stool, abdominal pain and cramping, fatigue, and other such problems.

The work of these Australian/U.K. researchers may provide a way to develop a vaccine that will help celiac disease patients tolerate foods containing gluten.

The paper that summarizes the efforts of these Australian and United Kingdom researchers is entitled 'Comprehensive, Quantitative Mapping of T Cell Epitopes in Gluten in Celiac Disease.'

It appears in the July 21, 2010 issue of Science Translational Medicine (Sci Transl Med 21 July 2010: Vol. 2, Issue 41, p. 41ra51 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3001012.).

Page two continues with specific information on the study about celiac disease and what causes it.


The lead author of the study is Australian gastroenterologist Robert "Bob" Anderson, head of the celiac disease research laboratory at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Parkville, Australia, and a gastroenterologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

Anderson was joined in the study by 13 other researchers from Australia and the United Kingdom.

Dr. Anderson states, "You can't design drugs for celiac disease until you know the parts of the gluten that are driving the condition.' [U.S. News and World Report (7-21-2010): 'Study Points to Molecular Origins of Celiac Disease']

The researchers used over 200 celiac disease patients in Australia and the United Kingdom for their study. They fed the subjects gluten based cereals that contained gluten.

They then analyzed their immune responses with respect to how it affected their blood.

The researchers performed a comprehensive analysis of their responses to all 'celiac toxic prolamins, a class of plant storage protein.'

They looked at thousands of different peptides (protein fragments) within the blood samples of the subjects.

Page three concludes.



Of these thousands of peptides, only three of them seemed to be responding negatively within the blood of these celiac disease patients.

One of these peptides was contained in wheat gluten, while the second was found in rye gluten. The third peptide was found in all three cereals (rye, wheat, and barley).


They stated, 'The peptides that stimulated T cells were the same among patients who ate the same cereal, but were different after wheat, barley and rye ingestion.'

They stated in their paper, 'Unexpectedly, a sequence from ω-gliadin (wheat) and C-hordein (barley) but not α-gliadin was immunodominant regardless of the grain consumed. Furthermore, T cells specific for just three peptides accounted for the majority of gluten-specific T cells, and their recognition of gluten peptides was highly redundant.'

And, 'Our findings show that pathogenic T cells in celiac disease show limited diversity, and therefore suggest that peptide-based therapeutics for this disease and potentially other strongly HLA-restricted immune diseases should be possible.'

Dr. Anderson states that "'¦ a very precise trigger is driving the immune response.'

And, "The problem is not so much gluten, it's really these three peptides."

Learn more about celiac disease at the Celiac Disease Foundation.

Check out additional information on the study in the ABC News article Keys to gluten intolerance found.





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