We previously noted a region of amino acid sequence homology between A-gliadin, a major alpha-gliadin component known to activate coeliac disease, and the early region E1b protein of human adenovirus serotype 12 (Ad12), an adenovirus isolated from the human intestinal tract. In the present study sera from coeliac disease patients from the United Kingdom and the United States were assayed for neutralising antibody to Ad12 as evidence of past exposure to that virus and for antibody to synthetic peptides of A-gliadin from the region of shared sequence with the Ad12 E1b protein. Eighty nine per cent of untreated coeliac disease patients had evidence of previous Ad12 infection. There was also a significant increase in the prevalence of neutralising antibody to Ad12 among treated adults (33.3%) and children (30.8%) with coeliac disease compared with controls (0-12.8%) in the western USA and in London. There was no evidence for an increased prevalence of infection with a closely related adenovirus, adenovirus 18, or another enteric virus, Echovirus 11, among coeliac disease subjects. Additional studies documented that a region of A-gliadin that shares amino acid sequence homology with the adenovirus 12 E1b protein could be recognised as an antigenic determinant in active coeliac disease patients. Taken together, these data are compatible with the hypothesis that a viral protein may play a role in the pathogenesis of coeliac disease, perhaps by virtue of immunological cross reactivity between antigenic determinants shared by the viral protein and alpha-gliadins.
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