Environmental factors of celiac disease: cytotoxicity of hulled wheat species Triticum monococcum, T. turgidum ssp. dicoccum and T. aestivum ssp. spelta

J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2007 Nov;22(11):1816-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1746.2006.04680.x.


Background and aim: In the present paper, the toxicity of prolamines derived from three cereals with a different genome was investigated in human colon cancer Caco-2/TC7 and human myelogenous leukemia K562(S) cells. The purpose of this study was to investigate if species from ancient wheat could be considered as healthy food crops devoid or poor in cytotoxic prolamines for celiac disease.

Methods: Cytotoxicity was measured in terms of inhibition of cell growth, activation of apoptosis, release of nitric oxide (NO), detection of tissue transglutaminase (TG II) and alteration of transepithelial electrical resistance (TEER) on Caco-2/Tc7 and K562 (S) cell agglutination. Peptic-tryptic (PT) digest from bread wheat (T. aestivum S. Pastore) was used as a positive control.

Results: PT digests of prolamins from spelt wheat (T. aestivum ssp. spelta) were found to exert toxic effects on Caco-2/TC7 cells and to agglutinate K562(S) cells. Increased amounts of NO and TG II expression were observed in Caco-2/TC7 cells exposed to 1 mg/mL of spelt prolamins, suggesting that spelt wheat can induce cellular mechanisms implicated in the pathogenesis of celiac disease. By contrast, the PT digests from monoccum wheat (Triticum monococcum) and farro wheat (T. turgidum ssp. dicoccum) did not exhibit any negative effects on Caco-2/TC7 and K562(S) cells.

Conclusions: The results have shown a constant and significant toxic effect of spelt wheat which is not shared by the two other ancient cereals. Future studies on celiac intestinal organ cultures are needed to increase the prospects of breeding programs aimed at developing wheat cultivars potentially tolerated by most celiac patients.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agglutination / drug effects
  • Agglutination Tests
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Blotting, Western
  • Caco-2 Cells
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Celiac Disease* / enzymology
  • Celiac Disease* / metabolism
  • Celiac Disease* / pathology
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Electric Impedance
  • Enzyme Activation
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / drug effects*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / enzymology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Intestinal Mucosa / pathology
  • K562 Cells
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism
  • Permeability / drug effects
  • Plant Proteins / isolation & purification
  • Plant Proteins / toxicity*
  • Prolamins
  • Time Factors
  • Transglutaminases / metabolism
  • Triticum* / chemistry


  • Plant Proteins
  • Prolamins
  • Nitric Oxide
  • transglutaminase 2
  • Transglutaminases
  • Caspases
  • GTP-Binding Proteins