Celiac.com 05/14/2000 - Scientists from the University of Maryland have discovered that people with the autoimmune disorder celiac disease have higher levels of the protein zonulin in their bodies. This discovery may ultimately lead to more insight into the causes of other autoimmune diseases, including diabetes, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. In people with celiac disease who eat gluten, which is found in wheat, rye and barley, an autoimmune reaction is set off that creates antibodies that end up attacking their intestines. This causes symptoms like diarrhea and abdominal pain, and may lead to long-term damage and a large host of other problems. Researchers at the University of Maryland have finally found the cause of this curious reaction: a protein in the body called zonulin. Zonulin is a human protein that acts like a traffic conductor for the bodys tissues by opening spaces between cells, and allowing certain proteins to pass through, while keeping out toxins and bacteria. People with celiac disease have higher levels of zonulin, which apparently allows gluten to pass through the cells in their intestines, which triggers an autoimmune response in their bodies. Until now, researchers could never understand how a big protein like gluten could pass through the immune system. According to author Alessio Fasano, M.D., people with celiac have an increased level of zonulin, which opens the junctions between the cells. In essence, the gateways are stuck open, allowing gluten and other allergens to pass. Further: I believe that zonulin plays a critical role in the modulation of our immune system...(f)or some reason, the zonulin levels go out of whack, and that leads to autoimmune disease. Ultimately these finding may help doctors understand the causes of other, more severe autoimmune disorders.