Possible association between celiac disease and bacterial transglutaminase in food processing: a hypothesis

Nutr Rev. 2015 Aug;73(8):544-52. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuv011. Epub 2015 Jun 16.


The incidence of celiac disease is increasing worldwide, and human tissue transglutaminase has long been considered the autoantigen of celiac disease. Concomitantly, the food industry has introduced ingredients such as microbial transglutaminase, which acts as a food glue, thereby revolutionizing food qualities. Several observations have led to the hypothesis that microbial transglutaminase is a new environmental enhancer of celiac disease. First, microbial transglutaminase deamidates/transamidates glutens such as the endogenous human tissue transglutaminase. It is capable of crosslinking proteins and other macromolecules, thereby changing their antigenicity and resulting in an increased antigenic load presented to the immune system. Second, it increases the stability of protein against proteinases, thus diminishing foreign protein elimination. Infections and the crosslinked nutritional constituent gluten and microbial transglutaminase increase the permeability of the intestine, where microbial transglutaminases are necessary for bacterial survival. The resulting intestinal leakage allows more immunogenic foreign molecules to induce celiac disease. The increased use of microbial transglutaminase in food processing may promote celiac pathogenesis ex vivo, where deamidation/transamidation starts, possibly explaining the surge in incidence of celiac disease. If future research substantiates this hypothesis, the findings will affect food product labeling, food additive policies of the food industry, and consumer health education.

Keywords: celiac disease; food processing; gluten; microbial transglutaminase; tissue transglutaminase.

MeSH terms

  • Celiac Disease / microbiology*
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Food Handling*
  • Glutens
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Transglutaminases / metabolism*


  • Glutens
  • Transglutaminases