Cytokines and Celiac Disease

What is a cytokine?

Secreted by cells, cytokines are small proteins that have a specific effect on the interactions and communications between cells. There are several kinds of cytokines with different functions. When cytokines are released by cells in the immune system, they direct the body’s response to fight infection or allergens by triggering symptoms or inflammation. 

What is the role of cytokines in celiac disease?

Cytokines are key modulators of the adaptive immune response, which is the body’s second line of defense after the innate immune system.  When functioning normally, the adaptive immune system functions to protect us from harmful bacteria, viruses and other organisms that cause disease. Sometimes however, as in the case of celiac disease, the immune system goes awry and attacks normal human tissue.

When someone has celiac disease, their immune system incorrectly reads gluten proteins as invaders. This miscue triggers T-cells, which function as the body’s disease fighting soldiers, to release cytokines and attack. This attack causes inflammation and -tissue destruction. 

Watch the Gut Reaction video to learn how celiac disease is triggered and might be treated

Recent research has shown that when someone with celiac disease ingests gluten as part of a gluten challenge in a clinical trial and the immune system is activated, the level of cytokines goes up, often simultaneously with the appearance of symptoms. 

You can read more about cytokines and celiac disease here and here.