Celiac.com 11/12/2012 - For the first time, researchers looking for a link between gluten and the immune system have been able to visualize the connection, according to new research in the scientific journal, Immunity.
The breakthrough is the result of a collective effort by researchers in Australia, the Netherlands and at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based ImmusanT Inc. The project was led by Professor Jamie Rossjohn and Dr. Hugh Reid at Monash University, Dr. Bob Anderson of ImmusanT and Professor Frits Koning at the University of Leiden.
By using x-ray crystallography, the researchers were able visualize the way in which T cells interact with the gluten protein that cause celiac disease in patients with the DQ8 susceptibility gene.
This discovery will help researchers better understand how celiac disease is triggered, and how pathology develops at the cellular level. About half the population carries the immune response genes HLA-DQ2 or HLA-DQ8, making them genetically susceptible to celiac disease.
At least one in 20 people who have the HLA-DQ2 gene, and about one in 150 who carry HLA-DQ8 will develop celiac disease, but people with other versions of the HLA-DQ genes seem to be protected from it.
This fact made researchers wonder how the immune system can sense gluten. That wondering triggered research efforts that led to an answer. An important one.
“This is the first time that the intricacies of the interaction between gluten and two proteins that initiate immune responses have been visualized at a sub-molecular level. It is an important breakthrough for celiac disease and autoimmune disease,” stated Professor Jamie Rossjohn, National Health and Medical Research Fellow, Monash University.
The researchers used the Australian three GeV Synchrotron to determine how T-cells of the immune system interact with gluten. Unlike an accelerator such as the LHC, the Australian Synchroton is a light source rather than a collider, making it ideal for the new study. The end goal of the project is to produce a treatment which allows celiac sufferers to resume a normal diet.
Understanding the gluten peptides responsible for celiac disease offers what Dr. Bob Anderson, ImmusanT's Chief Scientific Officer, calls "unique opportunity to interrogate the molecular events leading to a[n]...immune response.”
To address this opportunity, ImmusanT is currently developing a blood test and a therapeutic vaccine, Nexvax2, for celiac disease patients who carry HLA-DQ2. Nexvax2 uses three gluten peptides commonly recognized by gluten-reactive T cells. Nexvax2 is intended to restore immune tolerance to gluten and allow patients to return to a normal diet including gluten.
Future studies will investigate whether T cell activation by gluten in patients with HLA-DQ2 follows similar principles.
If it were safe and effective, would you consider a treatment that restored your immune tolerance to gluten and allowed you to eat a normal diet including gluten? Comment below to let us know your thoughts.