Elafin, a human protein, plays a key role against the inflammatory reaction typical of celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

Scientists from INRA and INSERM (France) and from McMaster University in Canada and the Ecole polytechnique federale of Zurich have developed a probiotic bacterium able to deliver Elafin to the intestinal tract of mice. This could lead to new strategies for treating gluten intolerance and allergy.

Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance

Celiac disease is an auto-immune pathology that happens to people genetically predisposed to gluten intolerance. These people do not have the enzymes needed to break down glutens for digestion. The inflammatory reaction caused by this abnormality can cause the destruction of the gut barrier essential for nutrients to be absorbed by the body.

Celiac disease causes abdominal pain, diarrhea and cramping and is linked to some kinds of cancer including small intestine and lymphoma. There is no treatment or cure and those with celiac must adhere to a gluten-free avoidance diet.

Elafin to the Rescue

The new research from INRA and INSERM as well as Canadian and Swiss colleagues shows that Elafin, a protein with anti-inflammatory properties, is less abundant in people with celiac disease. They were able to show that Elafin is capable of preventing the destruction of the gut barrier during inflammation. Elafin also interacts with the enzymes responsible for the abnormal breakdown of gluten and reduce gluten toxicity.

The scientists then found a way to deliver the Elafin by using harmless bacterium already present in many foods. This strain of bacterium enables a targeted and local production of Elafin thus creating a new strategy for treating celiac disease and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Current studies which use lactose intolerant mice show that the inflammatory response in the mice has been reduced.

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