While the central role of an adaptive, T cell-mediated immune response to certain gluten peptides in celiac disease is well established, the innate immune response to wheat proteins remains less well defined. We identified wheat amylase trypsin inhibitors (ATIs), but not gluten, as major stimulators of innate immune cells (dendritic cells>macrophages>monocytes), while intestinal epithelial cells were nonresponsive. ATIs bind to and activate the CD14-MD2 toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) complex. This activation occurs both in vitro and in vivo after oral ingestion of purified ATIs or gluten, which is usually enriched in ATIs. Wheat ATIs represent a family of up to 17 proteins with molecular weights of around 15 kDa and a variable primary but conserved secondary structure characterized by 5 intrachain disulfide bonds and alpha helices. They mostly form di- and tetramers that appear to equally activate TLR4. Relevant biological activity is confined to ATIs in gluten-containing cereals, while gluten-free cereals display no or minimal activities. ATIs represent up to 4% of total wheat protein and are highly resistant to intestinal proteases. In line with their dose-dependent function as co-stimulatory molecules in adaptive immunity of celiac disease, they appear to play a role in promoting other immune-mediated diseases within and outside the GI tract. Thus, ATIs may be prime candidates of severe forms of non-celiac gluten (wheat) sensitivity.
© 2015 S. Karger AG, Basel.