Coeliac disease and Gluten intolerance could be alleviated after Molecule discovery

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 9th April 2014
New discovery of molecule could lead to treatment for coeliac disease

A key molecule that could lead to new therapies for people with coeliac disease, an often painful and currently untreatable autoimmune disorder, has been discovered by researchers at McMaster University in Canada.

Researchers in the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute at McMaster University have discovered that a molecule called elafin, which is present in the intestine of healthy individuals, is significantly decreased in patients with coeliac disease. The research was published in the April edition of The American Journal of Gastroenterology.

How coeliac disease works

Coeliac disease is a food sensitivity to dietary gluten contained in cereals. In people who are genetically predisposed, food containing gluten will trigger an immune response that leads to destruction of the intestinal lining, abdominal pain, changes in bowel habits, malnutrition and many other symptoms that include anemia and neurological problems. People with the disease cannot eat food containing wheat, rye or barley, which are common sources of protein intake in the western diet.

When people with coeliac disease eat food containing gluten, the digestive enzymes cannot digest it, and leftover peptides from digestion induce inflammation. This inflammation is further amplified by an enzyme called tissue transglutaminase 2.

Elafin decreased enzymatic reaction

Researchers found that elafin, by interacting with the transglutaminase 2 enzyme, decreased the enzymatic reaction that increases the toxicity of peptides derived from gluten. In studies with mice, the researchers found that the administration of the elafin molecule protected the intestinal lining of the upper gut that was usually damaged by gluten.

Potential treatment could make life easier for patients

The researchers said that following a gluten-free diet was very difficult, because gluten is used not only in the food industry but in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries as a common, low-cost filler.

“People who have to strictly avoid gluten for life often find this very difficult due to these hidden sources,” said Elena Verdu, Associate Professor of Medicine at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine. “There is a great need for a therapy that will protect patients with coeliac disease from accidental contaminations,” she said.

Associate Professor Verdu said the results of the study raised the possibility of elafin administration or replacement as a new adjuvant therapy to the gluten-free diet.

“This would add flexibility to a restrictive lifelong diet, and increase patients’ quality of life and potentially accelerate the healing of coeliac lesions,” Associate Professor Verdu said.

Implications beyond coeliac disease

Researchers said the study findings had implications beyond treatment for coeliac disease.

Recently, gluten intolerance has been reported in patients who do not have coeliac disease (non-coeliac gluten sensitivity). Researchers aid development of new therapies such as this one could help in the management of common gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, that could also be triggered by food containing wheat.