A region containing four closely linked genes on chromosome 4 harbours variants that protect against the development of celiac disease, according to a study to be published online in Nature Genetics. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that is caused by a reaction to a gluten protein found in wheat, rye and barley, requiring affected individuals to eat a gluten-free diet.
David van Heel and colleagues carried out a genome-wide association study for celiac disease, initially looking at a group of affected and unaffected individuals in the UK. In addition to associations in the HLA region, which had been reported previously, they identified a protective variant in a region that contains the genes IL2, IL21, TENR, and a predicted gene of unknown function, KIAA1109. This association was replicated in populations from the Netherlands and from Ireland. The genes IL2 and IL21 are considered the two most promising genes to explain the association, as they encode interleukin-2 and interleukin-21, proteins known to be involved in other intestinal inflammatory diseases. Further mapping of this region will be required to pin down the mechanisms by which these variants protect against celiac disease.
David van Heel (Queen Mary University of London, UK)
Abstract available online.
(C) Nature Genetics press release.
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