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Enzyme Could Help Celiac Disease Patients Tolerate Gluten

Barley-based compound may prevent allergic inflammation, researchers say

WEDNESDAY, June 28, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Patients with celiac disease have to carefully monitor their diet to avoid consuming gluten, a ubiquitous protein found in whole grains.

Now, researchers say a newly discovered enzyme may prevent an allergic reaction in celiac patients who have accidentally consumed gluten.

Gluten causes an inflammatory reaction that can lead to significant intestinal damage in people suffering from celiac disease. The damage prevents the intestine from properly absorbing nutrients from food. Avoiding gluten in the diet prevents this damage, but the risk of accidentally ingesting gluten remains high.

However, researchers at Stanford University say they've identified an enzyme called EP-B2 that successfully digested gluten in an acidic environment similar to that of a human stomach. The enzyme even broke down the elements of the protein associated with causing the inflammatory reactions in celiac patients.

"Non-dietary therapies that allow celiac patients to safely incorporate low-to-moderate levels of gluten into their daily diet would be of considerable benefit," study author Dr. Chaitan Khosla, of Stanford University and the Celiac Sprue Research Foundation, said in a prepared statement. "Having demonstrated earlier that certain types of enzymes can detoxify gluten, our laboratory set out to devise an optimal oral enzyme therapy for celiac sprue by borrowing from nature," Khosla said.

"In germinating barley seed, gluten serves as a nutritious storage protein that is efficiently digested by enzymes. One enzyme, EP-B2, plays a crucial role in this process by breaking gluten proteins after glutamine residues, which comprise one-third of all amino acid residues in gluten," Khosla added.

Khosla's team used a combination of EP-B2 and PEP, another enzyme known to digest gluten. The two enzymes together broke down and detoxified gluten within 10 minutes. Neither was effective when used alone.

"Our results suggest that recombinant EP-B2 should be effective as supportive therapy to help celiacs cope with the 'hidden' gluten in everyday life, and that a two-enzyme cocktail containing PEP and EP-B2 may even allow celiacs to resume a more normal diet in the future," concluded Khosla.

Results from the study are reported in the June issue of Chemistry and Biology.

More information

The Celiac Disease Foundation has more information on celiac disease.

SOURCES: Cell Press, news release, June 23, 2006
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