To investigate further, they tested two viral strains on mice, and found that an asymptomatic strain called T1L had the ability to trigger an intestinal immune response on food molecules like gluten.
A common virus may be responsible for triggering the human body's immune response to gluten proteins, which results in celiac diseases. Such viruses may play a role in the development of autoimmune disorders such as celiac disease and type 1 diabetes.
With 30 percent of people being genetically predisposed to celiac disease, the fact that only 1 percent of the population develops the condition pointed to a potential trigger that's now been identified.
However, figures show only 24 per cent of those with the condition are diagnosed, leaving an estimated half a million people in the United Kingdom living with the condition without knowing about it. "However, the particular virus and its genes, the interaction between the microbe and the host, and the health status of the host are all going to matter as well". 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.
Although human infections with reoviruses are common, the viruses don't cause symptoms in people.
The team found that one of the strains not only prompted an inflammatory immune response in the rodents, but it also led to the loss of oral tolerance to gluten.
An estimated 40 percent of the population have the genes that predispose them to celiac disease, but while 95 percent of people eat gluten, only 1 percent end up developing the disorder, said Dr. Paul Green, director of the Celiac Center at Columbia University in NY. The infected mice created a super-charged immune system response whenever they were fed with gluten. Currently, there are no known cures for this celiac condition but for the patient to have a gluten-free diet regime. 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.
Researchers at the University of Chicago and University of Pittsburgh infected mice with reoviruses - a harmless type of virus that normally does not make people sick.
The virus tricks the immune system into thinking gluten is a harmful and needs to be attacked.
The study concludes that infection from a reovirus could be key in developing celiac disease, especially among babies. The scientists had been studying reoviruses for some time before coming to the surprising realization that these otherwise benign viruses might have something to do with the celiac disease, according to a press release. It didn't cause celiac disease outright, however.
So why do some people with the disease-causing genes end up getting the disorder while others remain healthy? Despite the prevalence of the disease - 1 in 133 people in the USA are impacted by it, according to the study - only 17 percent of Americans have been diagnosed with it.
Understanding how the celiac disease develops is important in the development of future treatments which may include a vaccine for celiac disease.
"That's why we believe that once we have more studies, we may want to think about whether children at high risk of developing celiac disease should be vaccinated", she added.