A usually harmless virus may play a role in triggering celiac disease, a new study in mice suggests.
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.
"A virus that is not clinically symptomatic can still do bad things to the immune system and set the stage for an autoimmune disorder," such as celiac disease, study co-author Dr. Bana Jabri, director of research at the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, said in a statement.
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.