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Gut Molecule May Help Cure Celiac Disease

Update Date: Apr 01, 2014 04:19 PM EDT

Scientists have discovered a molecule that could help treat celiac disease. New research conducted at McMaster University reveals a key molecule that could pave the way for discovering new treatments against the painful and untreatable autoimmune disorder.

People with celiac disease are sensitive to dietary gluten, and consuming foods containing wheat, rye or barley can trigger an immune response that leads to destruction of the intestinal lining, abdominal pain, changes in bowel habits, malnutrition and other symptoms related to anemia and neurological problems.

However, the latest study revealed that that people with celiac disease have significantly less elafin, a molecule present in the intestine of healthy individuals.

Researchers explain that when celiac patients eat food containing gluten, their digestive enzymes cannot break it down, which can lead to leftover peptides that trigger inflammation. Furthermore, an enzyme called tissue transglutaminase 2 further worsens the inflammation.

However, the latest study revealed that elafin decreases inflammation by interacting with the transglutaminase 2 enzyme to reduce the enzymatic reaction that increases the toxicity of peptides derived from gluten.

The study on mice revealed that the elafin molecule protects the intestinal lining of the upper gut that is damaged by gluten.

Researchers said that findings are important because adhering to a gluten-free diet is very hard as gluten is used in the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries as economical 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 in the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, according to a news release. "There is a great need for a therapy that will protect patients with celiac disease from these accidental contaminations."

Researchers said the findings suggest that a combination of elafin administration or replacement and gluten free diet may help prevent gastrointestinal disorders celiac patients.

"This would add flexibility to a restrictive lifelong diet, and increase patients' quality of life and potentially accelerate the healing of celiac lesions," Verdu concluded.

The findings are published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology.

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