New study links protein in wheat to the inflammation of chronic health conditions

October 17, 2016, United European Gastroenterology

Scientists have discovered that a protein in wheat triggers the inflammation of chronic health conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, and also contributes towards the development of non-coeliac gluten sensitivity.

With past studies commonly focusing on gluten and its impact on digestive health, this new research, presented at UEG Week 2016, turns the spotlight onto a different family of proteins found in wheat called amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs). The study shows that the consumption of ATIs can lead to the development of inflammation in tissues beyond the gut, including the , kidneys, spleen and brain. Evidence suggests that ATIs can worsen the symptoms of , , , lupus and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, as well as .

ATIs make up no more than 4% of wheat proteins, but can trigger powerful immune reactions in the gut that can spread to other tissues in the body. Lead researcher, Professor Detlef Schuppan from the Johannes Gutenberg University, Germany, explains, "As well as contributing to the development of bowel-related inflammatory conditions, we believe that ATIs can promote inflammation of other immune-related chronic conditions outside of the bowel. The type of gut inflammation seen in non-coeliac gluten sensitivity differs from that caused by coeliac disease, and we do not believe that this is triggered by gluten proteins. Instead, we demonstrated that ATIs from wheat, that are also contaminating commercial gluten, activate specific types of immune cells in the gut and other tissues, thereby potentially worsening the symptoms of pre-existing inflammatory illnesses".

Clinical studies are now due to commence to explore the role that ATIs play on in more detail. "We are hoping that this research can lead us towards being able to recommend an ATI-free diet to help treat a variety of potentially serious immunological disorders" adds Professor Schuppan.

ATIs and Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity

Further to inflaming chronic health conditions outside of the bowel, ATIs may contribute to the development on non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. This condition is now an accepted medical diagnosis for people who do not have coeliac disease but benefit from a gluten free diet. Intestinal symptoms, such as abdominal pain and irregular bowel movements, are frequently reported, which can make it difficult to distinguish from IBS. However, extraintestinal symptoms can assist with diagnosis, which include headaches, joint pain and eczema. These symptoms typically appear after the consumption of gluten-containing food and improve rapidly on a gluten-free diet. Yet, gluten does not appear to cause the condition.

Professor Schuppan hopes that the research will also help to redefine non-coeliac gluten sensitivity to a more appropriate term. He explains, "Rather than non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, which implies that gluten solitarily causes the , a more precise name for the disease should be considered."

Explore further: How much gluten is in foods labelled 'gluten free'?

More information:

  • Zevallos V, Weinmann-Menke J, Meineck M et al. Alpha-amylase/trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) accelerate murine systemic lupus erythematosus. Poster presentation at the 16th International Coeliac Disease Symposium, 21–24 June 2015, Prague, Czech Republic. Poster P168.
  • Zevallos V, Yogev N, Nikolaev A et al. Consumption of wheat alpha-amylase/trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) enhances experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis in mice. Oral presentation at the 16th International Coeliac Disease Symposium, 21–24 June 2015, Prague, Czech Republic.
  • Junker Y, Zeissig S, Kim S-J et al. Wheat amylase trypsin inhibitors drive intestinal inflammation via activation of toll-like receptor 4. J Exp Med 2012;209(13):2395-408.
  • Fasano A, Sapone A, Zevallos V et al. Nonceliac gluten and wheat sensitivity. Gastroenterology 2015;148(6):1195-204.
  • Schuppan D, Pickert G, Ashfaq-Khan M et al. Non-celiac wheat sensitivity: Differential diagnosis, triggers and implications. Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol 2015;29(3):469–76.

Related Stories

How much gluten is in foods labelled 'gluten free'?

October 3, 2016
A study by The University of Western Australia of foods labelled 'gluten-free' published this week in the Medical Journal of Australia has found that some produced overseas do not comply with the Australian standard that ...

Childhood coeliac disease discovery opens door for potential treatments

September 3, 2015
A new study has revealed childhood coeliac disease mirrors the condition in adults, increasing the possibility a coeliac disease therapy that could enable patients to eat gluten again will work in children.

New clue in celiac disease puzzle: Cause of oat toxicity explained

November 18, 2014
Melbourne researchers have identified why some people with coeliac disease show an immune response after eating oats.

Viruses may trigger pathological false alarm in the intestine

June 20, 2016
The onset of the autoimmune condition coeliac disease may not be down to genetic factors alone – certain viral infections may also be involved. This is the finding of a project funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF, which ...

Prevalence of celiac appears steady but followers of gluten-free diet increase

September 6, 2016
More people are eating gluten-free, although the prevalence of celiac disease appears to have remained stable in recent years, according to an article published online by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Recommended for you

Ambitious global virome project could mark end of pandemic era

February 23, 2018
Rather than wait for viruses like Ebola, SARS and Zika to become outbreaks that force the world to react, a new global initiative seeks to proactively identify, prepare for and stop viral threats before they become pandemics.

Forecasting antibiotic resistance with a 'weather map' of local data

February 23, 2018
The resistance that infectious microbes have to antibiotics makes it difficult for physicians to confidently select the right drug to treat an infection. And that resistance is dynamic: It changes from year to year and varies ...

Scientists gain new insight on how antibodies interact with widespread respiratory virus

February 22, 2018
Scientists have found and characterized the activity of four antibodies produced by the human immune system that target an important protein found in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), according to new research published ...

Study reveals how kidney disease happens

February 22, 2018
Monash researchers have solved a mystery, revealing how certain immune cells work together to instigate autoimmune kidney disease.

Past encounters with the flu shape vaccine response

February 20, 2018
New research on why the influenza vaccine was only modestly effective in recent years shows that immune history with the flu influences a person's response to the vaccine.

Building better tiny kidneys to test drugs and help people avoid dialysis

February 16, 2018
A free online kidney atlas built by USC researchers empowers stem cell scientists everywhere to generate more human-like tiny kidneys for testing new drugs and creating renal replacement therapies.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

otterj
not rated yet Oct 17, 2016
I'm sure there are a lot of people who finally feel vindicated. They changed their diet, they noticed a big difference, and they have been convinced that they are "gluten sensitive." Yet poorly constructed studies, people with poor research skills, and popular (but not very medically respected) doctors kept telling them it was their imagination.

I went through an elimination diet to test out food sensitivities, and didn't react one way or another to gluten. I'm glad; gluten is possible to avoid, but it's not always easy.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.