Earlier research by Fasano and colleagues led to the discovery of the human protein zonulin. They observed that zonulin regulates the permeability of the intestines by controlling the opening and closing of specialized structures that act like gates between cells. When the body produces too much zonulin, these gates remain open for too long, allowing undigested foodstuff, toxins and other bacterial and viral particles access to the immune system. That contact, in turn, leads to the production of antibodies that can destroy the insulin-producing islet cells in the pancreas among people genetically predisposed to develop Type 1 diabetes. The final result is the appearance of Type 1, or insulin-dependent, diabetes.
Fasano's group also discovered that zonulin is produced in very large amounts in people who have autoimmune disorders such as diabetes, celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. The researchers performed their latest study on rats genetically prone to develop Type 1 diabetes.
"With autoimmune diseases, the body mistakes its own tissues as foreign, resulting in an attack and destruction by the body's own immune system. These diseases are all characterized by an extremely permeable intestinal wall," says Fasano. "We already knew that there was a distinct connection between an increase in zonulin levels and an increased permeability of the intestines. With this study, we've been able to identify a way to prevent zonulin from causing leakage from the intestines as it does in people with these autoimmune diseases."
Does an increase in zonulin (from ingesting gluten) cause autoimmune diseases or do autoimmune diseases cause an increase in zonulin?
Gut Permeability and Autoimmune
21 Jan 2009 19:02 #690