March 3, 2008 -- New information about a possible genetic cause of celiac disease could soon lead to better treatments for the immune disorder.
Researchers have identified a group of seven gene regions that appear to predispose people to celiac disease.
People with celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten protein found in wheat, rye, and barley products, such as breads and cereals. They must follow a strict gluten-free diet to control their symptoms, which can include abdominal pain, fatigue, and weight loss.
When people with celiac disease eat foods containing gluten, their immune systems attack the protein. This damages the intestinal lining, hampering the ability to absorb vital nutrients from food, eventually leading to malnutrition.
Celiac disease affects up to 1% of the population and is difficult to treat and diagnose. Researchers say a better understanding of what causes the immune system disorder could lead to improved treatments for the condition.
Previous studies identified a genetic region on chromosome four associated with celiac disease. In this study, the same research group identified seven new genetic regions associated with an increased risk of celiac disease.
Researchers compared genetic markers in people with and without celiac disease and then assessed about 1,000 of the strongest markers in a further 5,000 samples.
The results, published in Nature Genetics, identified seven new genetic risk regions associated with celiac disease. Of those seven mutations, six involve genes that control immune responses.
"So far, our findings explain nearly half of the heritability of celiac disease -- now studies with many more samples from individuals with celiac disease are needed to identify the precise causal genetic variants from each region, and understand how these influence biological processes," researcher David van Heel, professor of gastrointestinal genetics at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, says in a news release.