Background: It is well established that the wheat protein gliadin triggers inflammation in coeliac patients. However, the potential toxicity of avenin, the equivalent protein in oats, is debated.
Aim: To investigate the immunogenicity of avenin using the cytokines interferon gamma (IFN-gamma) and interleukin (IL)-2 as markers of immunological activity.
Methods: Duodenal biopsies from coeliac patients were cultured with 5 mg/ml of peptic tryptic (PT) gliadin (n=9) or 5 mg/ml of PT avenin (n=8) for four hours. Biopsies cultured with RPMI 1640 alone served as controls. Non-coeliac biopsies were also cultured with PT gliadin (n=8) and PT avenin (n=8). Total RNA was extracted from the tissue after culture. Cytokine mRNA was quantified by TaqMan polymerase chain reaction. Secreted cytokine protein was measured in the culture supernatant by enzyme linked immunosorbent assay.
Results: After culture with PT gliadin, an increase in IFN-gamma mRNA was observed in all nine patients with coeliac disease. Increased IFN-gamma protein was also found in four of these patients. Smaller increases in IL-2 mRNA were detected in six subjects with increased IL-2 protein found in two patients. In contrast with PT gliadin, there was no significant IFN-gamma or IL-2 response when coeliac biopsies were cultured with PT avenin. Similarly, biopsies from normal controls did not respond to PT gliadin or PT avenin stimulation.
Conclusions: The findings of this study suggest that the immunogenic sequences in gliadin are not present in avenin. Moreover, they are in keeping with in vivo studies which report that oats are safe for consumption by coeliac patients.