Walter and Eliza Hall Institute scientists have identified the three protein fragments that make gluten – the main protein in wheat, rye and barley – toxic to people with coeliac (spelled Celiac in North America) disease.
Their discovery opens the way for a new generation of diagnostics, treatments, prevention strategies and food tests for the millions of people worldwide with coeliac disease.
When people with coeliac disease eat products containing gluten their body’s immune response is switched on and the lining of the small intestine is damaged, hampering their ability to absorb nutrients. The disease is currently treated by permanently removing gluten from the patient’s diet.
Dr Bob Anderson, head of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute’s coeliac disease research laboratory, said it had been 60 years since gluten was discovered to be the environmental cause of coeliac disease.
“In the years since, the holy grail in coeliac disease research has been to identify the toxic peptide components of gluten; and that’s what we’ve done,” Dr Anderson said.
The research, done in collaboration with Dr Jason Tye-Din, Dr James Dromey, Dr Stuart Mannering, Dr Jessica Stewart and Dr Tim Beissbarth from the institute as well as Professor Jamie Rossjohn at Monash University and Professor Jim McCluskey at the University of Melbourne, is published in today’s issue of the international journal Science Translational Medicine.