Can celiac disease be caused by a virus?


I came across an article yesterday on CBS news about the connection between celiac disease and the reovirus.  I thought you all might be interested in knowing more about it.

Here are some excerpts:

The researchers found that, among mice that were genetically engineered predisposed to celiac disease, those that were infected with a virus called reovirus were more likely to have an immune response against gluten than mice not infected with a reovirus. This immune response is similar to what’s seen in people with the condition.

Although human infections with reoviruses are common, the viruses don’t cause symptoms in people. But the study also found that patients with celiac disease did have higher levels of antibodies against reovirus, compared to people without the condition.

The findings suggest that reovirus infection may leave a “permanent mark” on the immune system that sets the body up for developing celiac disease, the researchers said.

The study also tied in gluten intolerance:

The researchers also found people with celiac disease who had high levels of reovirus antibodies also had increased expression of a gene that encodes a protein called IRF1. In the mouse studies, the researchers saw that IRF1 played a role in developing gluten intolerance after reovirus infection.

However, the researchers noted that only one particular strain of reovirus, called T1L, triggered the immune responses seen in the study. It’s not clear if other types of reovirus have the same effect, they said. The other strain they tested, called T3D, is genetically different from T1L, and did not trigger the immune response.

In addition, other factors besides reovirus infection, such as a person’s genes and their overall health, would likely play a role in whether the virus triggers celiac disease, the researchers said.


The study showed that T1L acted in two ways: It suppressed the formation of certain types of “regulatory” immune cells that usually allow the body to know that it shouldn’t attack certain substances. And it also promoted an inflammatory response to gluten.

The researchers noted that although their study showed that reovirus infection led to an immune reaction against gluten, this reaction alone wouldn’t damage to the small intestine. There are more steps that need to occur before the body experiences damage to the small intestine, and the study did not look at these steps.

This is a very interesting development in the understanding of celiac disease, gluten intolerance and how both conditions are developed.  It seems that it is a combination of genes,  and overall health that also plays a role.  I believe that Celiac disease is inherited. I also wonder what part the constant tummy aches of my childhood plays.  Perhaps I had this virus as a child and it caused my gluten intolerance.  I will be waiting to see if there is a way to find out in future research.

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