London: Scientists have cracked the mystery of coeliac disease – a feat that could pave the way for treatments for the condition that blights the lives of millions of people.
Coeliac disease is caused by intolerance to gluten found in foods like bread, pasta and biscuits.
The intolerance to gluten, the main protein in wheat, rye and barley, causes the immune system to attack the gut.
Now British and Australian scientists have pinpointed why the protein can be so toxic.
The researchers studied 200 patients with coeliac disease attending clinics in Oxford and Melbourne.
The volunteers were asked to eat bread, rye muffins or boiled barley. Six days later they had blood samples taken to measure their immune response to thousands of different gluten fragments, or peptides.
The tests identified 90 peptides that caused some level of immune reaction, but three were found to be particularly toxic.
"These three components account for the majority of the immune response to gluten that is observed in people with coeliac disease," the BBC quoted Professor Bob Anderson, head of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia, as saying.
The research has been published in the journal, Science Translational Medicine.