A common and usually harmless virus may trigger celiac disease. Infection with the suspected culprit, a reovirus, could cause the immune system to react to gluten as if it was a dangerous pathogen instead of a harmless food protein, an international team of researchers reports April 7 in Science.
In a study in mice, the researchers found that the reovirus, T1L, tricks the immune system into mounting an attack against innocent food molecules. The virus first blocks the immune system’s regulatory response that usually gives non-native substances, like food proteins, the OK, Terence Dermody, a virologist at the University of Pittsburgh, and colleagues found. Then the virus prompts a harmful inflammatory response.
“Viruses have been suspected as potential triggers of autoimmune or food allergy–related diseases for decades,” says Herbert Virgin, a viral immunologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. This study provides new data on how a viral infection can change the immune system’s response to food, says Virgin, who wasn’t involved in the study.
Reoviruses aren’t deadly. Almost everyone has been infected with a reovirus, and almost no one gets sick, Dermody says. But if the first exposure to a food with gluten occurs during infection, the virus may…