WEDNESDAY, Feb. 9 (HealthDay News) -- A key discovery into how celiac disease develops may pave the way toward preventing this painful digestive disorder in those most at risk, a new animal study suggests.
Using mice, scientists at the University of Chicago have identified a biochemical interaction that may trigger an autoimmune reaction in the intestines of genetically susceptible people.
Specifically, the researchers found that retinoic acid, a form of vitamin A, seems to work together with high levels of a pro-inflammatory substance known as interleukin-15 (IL-15) to break the body's tolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.
"This is the first time that we actually show how inducing a specific dysregulation in the intestines can lead to losing tolerance to a food antigen, and in particular to gluten," said study author Dr. Bana Jabri, co-director of the university's Digestive Disease Research Core Center.
The finding is important, she added, "because we may now have a way to reintroduce tolerance to gluten since we know what to target." It should be noted that promising research done with animals often fails to produce beneficial results for humans.
The deleterious effect of retinoic acid was particularly surprising, Jabri said. "Retinoic acid has long been viewed as a regulatory factor when this inflammation occurs, but our findings suggest a completely new role," she said.
The study, which will appear in a future print issue of the journal Nature, was published online on Feb. 9.
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, one out of 133 people is estimated to have celiac disease, which causes cramping, bloating and diarrhea. Over time, the condition can lead to problems absorbing nutrients, damage to the small intestine and, in some cases, joint pain, chronic fatigue and depression.
For the study, Jabri a
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